What Are Tonsil Stones?
The tonsils are masses of lymph tissue in the back of the throat. Tonsil stones (also called tonsilloliths or tonsil calculi) are clusters of calcifications, or stones, that develop in the tonsil’s craters (crypts) that are formed from a buildup of food, bacteria, cells, and mucus.
What Are Symptoms of Tonsil Stones?
Tonsil stones are hard, white or yellowish colored formations on the tonsils. Tonsil stones often do not cause symptoms. When symptoms occur, they include:
- Persistent bad breath (halitosis)
- White or yellow formations on the tonsil
- Sore throat
- Tonsil swelling
- Difficulty swallowing
- Feeling of an object being stuck in the back of the throat/choking feeling
- Ear pain
- Chronic tonsil infection/inflammation
Small stones are common and are often swallowed without patients having symptoms or knowing they exist. Large stones are rare.
What Is the Treatment for Tonsil Stones?
Tonsil stones are usually not dangerous, and don’t always need to be removed, but they can cause bad breath, the sensation of an object being stuck in the back of the throat, or difficulty swallowing. In these cases, patients may want to get rid of them.
Tonsil stones often dissolve on their own, are coughed up, or are swallowed and no treatment is needed.
If tonsil stones do not go away on their own, treatments include:
- Medications used to treat tonsil stones may include
- Laser treatment (laser tonsil cryptolysis): a noninvasive treatment used to minimize or remove tonsil crypts where tonsil stones can become lodged
- Coblation cryptolysis: a treatment that uses radio waves to change a salt solution into charged ions that can cut through tissue to reduce tonsillar crypts and get rid of tonsil stones
- Tonsillectomy: surgical removal of the tonsils, usually a last resort but the only cure for the condition
Removing tonsil stones at home is generally not recommended because tonsils are delicate tissues and bleeding and infection may occur if stones are not carefully removed. If tonsil stones are painful, large, or you are having difficulty breathing, see a doctor.