Head & Neck

How Do I Know If I Have Tonsil Stones?

written by Becki Andrus
How Do I Know If I Have Tonsil Stones?

Tonsilloliths, also known as tonsil stones, are small, hard bumps growing in the back of your mouth. This condition is actually quite common and can change in size, color, and symptoms depending on the patient.

While tonsil stones might seem alarming at first, they usually don’t pose a severe threat to your health. But it’s always a good idea to talk to an ENT for diagnosis and treatment options to avoid complications from this condition.

What Are Tonsil Stones?

Most of the time, tonsil stones are gravel-sized, sometimes so small that it’s difficult to see them with the naked eye. However, you might be able to open your mouth wide and look in a mirror to see the appearance of stones on the tonsils.

In rare situations, tonsil stones can grow larger, eventually as big as a golf ball.

Tonsil stones are usually soft, but they can harden over time. Typically, they appear to be white or yellowish in color.

How Do I Know If I Have Tonsil Stones?

Signs of tonsil stones include:

  • Discomfort in the Back of the Throat: When you swallow, it might feel different or unusual compared to “normal.” For example, you might have the sensation of having something stuck in your throat.
  • Chronic Bad Breath: Infection in the tonsils produces a bad smell. Tonsil stones could be the cause if you have halitosis even after brushing and flossing your teeth.
  • Visible Yellow or White Bumps on the Tonsils: Open your mouth wide, look in a mirror, and shine in the light. You might see visible discoloration on the tonsils, such as yellow or white spots.
  • Coughing Due to Throat Irritation: The stones might cause irritation in the throat, resulting in the need to cough. In addition, you might feel like you need to clear your throat all the time.
  • Problems Swallowing: The location and size of the tonsil stone can affect your ability to swallow. For example, you might find it difficult to swallow food when eating.
  • Pain in the Back of the Throat: Some stones cause pain, although tonsil stones can be present without pain symptoms.
  • Swollen Tonsils: Hardened debris can result in the development of inflammation and infection, which causes the tonsils to swell.

What Causes Tonsil Stones?

These stones start to form in the tiny crevices on and around the tonsils. In these areas, it’s possible for bacteria, saliva, and food particles to get trapped. The debris irritates the tissues and causes the formation of one or more stones.

When the debris gets trapped, it can start to bond together and cause a hardened formation. This calcification is most common in people with chronic inflammation in the tonsils.

One potential risk factor for tonsil stones is recurring tonsillitis.

The structure of the tonsils affects your risk factor for tonsil stone development. For example, patients with bumpier tonsils have a higher risk of stones than patients with smooth tonsils.

FAQ About Tonsil Stones

You probably have a lot of questions coming to mind if an ENT has recently diagnosed you with tonsil stones. Here are answers to some of these common questions:

Can You Feel Tonsil Stones?

You may or may not be able to feel tonsil stones, depending on the number of stones, the size, and the location. However, even if you can’t feel the stones, you might notice other sensations, such as the feeling of having something stuck in the back of your throat.

Is It Necessary to Remove Tonsil Stones?

In most situations, tonsil stones aren’t posing a serious health issue. They can be removed at home by pushing them out with your finger or a cotton swab. But it’s recommended that you talk to an ENT if this condition is chronic or you are experiencing complications from tonsil stones.

Will Tonsil Stones Return?

Yes, it’s possible for tonsil stones to come back after removal. When this condition is chronic, it’s best to talk to your ENT about prevention and treatment options.

How Do You Get Tonsil Stones Out?

Home removal is possible by gently scraping the tonsil stones with a swab or water pick. In addition, some people have had success removing tonsil stones by gargling warm, salty water. This link provides more information about at-home tonsil stone removal.

Sometimes, medication is used as a tonsil stone treatment. However, if bacteria cause the stones, antibiotics can be part of the treatment.

Do Tonsil Stones Go Away on Their Own?

Yes, tonsil stones can dislodge themselves over time. You might not notice that the stone is gone because you swallowed it while eating or drinking.

Or, you might feel the stone dislodge when coughing, and you can spit it out.

How Long Do Tonsil Stones Last?

Many tonsil stones dissolve or dislodge on their own in a few days or weeks. But if the bacteria continue to grow, you might have ongoing tonsil stones that need treatment.

When tonsil stones are ignored and left untreated, they can last for years. You should talk to an ENT about lifestyle changes and treatment options to prevent long-term stones.

Can Tonsil Stones Be Prevented?

Oral hygiene isn’t necessarily a factor that increases the risk of tonsil stones. But good oral hygiene could be a factor to help with stone prevention.

Be proactive about brushing and flossing your teeth. Also, use mouth rise and water gargling to clear out any debris that might be stuck in the back of the throat.

Is Surgery Necessary for Tonsil Stone Removal?

Usually, tonsil stones aren’t a medical emergency. If you have large tonsil stones that need to be removed, or the condition is recurring, then the ENT might recommend surgical solutions:

  • Cryptolysis to smooth the surface of the tonsils
  • Tonsillectomy that involves removing the tonsils

Should You Talk to an ENT About Tonsil Stones?

If the tonsil stones aren’t going away or you notice they are getting larger, it might be time to talk to a doctor. An ENT can diagnose tonsil stones and rule out other more serious medical conditions.

It’s important to talk to a doctor when you find that the stones disrupt your lifestyle or interfere with breathing, talking, or eating.

Are you looking for an ENT in Collin County or near Dallas? Collin County Ear, Nose, and Throat offers a variety of ENT services, including diagnosis and treatment for tonsil stones. You are always welcome to schedule a consultation at one of our nearby offices in Frisco or Plano, TX. Fill out the online form to set up an appointment, or call: (972) 596-4005.

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