Tonsil Stone Removal
There are many parts of your body that work together to ensure you are healthy and functioning as you should. Some parts of your body, though, may not do an adequate job or may develop issues that make them more of a problem than a functional part of your body. One such area is your tonsils.
Located at the back of your throat, your tonsils were believed to have once been important in helping your body to fight infections and stop bacteria and viruses. They no longer seem to do an effective job in most people. In fact, these glands located in pockets on each side of your throat sometimes become inflamed or infected.
They can also develop something called tonsil stones. These stones can be irritating. However, they are usually not dangerous or harmful to your health. Even so, you may still want to look into tonsil stone removal for your own comfort.
First, learn more about what tonsil stones are, how to know if you have them and what causes them. Then, learn how they can be removed.
What Are They?
A tonsil stone is a hard substance that forms in or on your tonsils. They may or may not be seen easily and can be very small or as large as a grape. They normally do not cause harm to your health but can cause issues with swallowing or discomfort. Some people are more likely to develop them than others. You can have one or multiple stones.
Tonsil stones can easily develop because your tonsils are like pockets with crevices and pits. They catch things as they travel down your throat. This may include food particles, viruses, bacteria, dead cells, mucus and other debris. As the pockets fill, all this debris forms into a stone.
While everyone has the same debris traveling down their throat, not everyone develops stones. It is thought that there could be multiple reasons why. Stones have been linked to poor dental hygiene, which allows more debris to travel down the throat. Having chronic sinus infections or tonsillitis may also contribute to stones. Finally, if you have large tonsils, you may be more likely to develop them.
If you have tonsil stones, you may not even be aware of them. Sometimes they have no symptoms at all, especially if they are small in size. Sometimes you will be able to see them if they are larger and located outside the tonsil pocket. They may also cause noticeable issues, which include the following:
- Ear pain
- Sore throat
- Bad breath
- Swallowing issues
- Swelling in the throat
You can generally get a positive diagnosis through an x-ray or CT scan. Your doctor may be likely to do such tests if you have severe bad breath without an easy-to-determine cause. A sore throat alone is not an indicator of tonsil stones since it could also be an indication of an infection. If you have an infection, it may be difficult to see the stones. However, pain with stones alone is usually restricted to the specific area where the stone is located rather than the more widespread pain of an infection. If a stone is large or located in a specific area, you may notice trouble with swallowing or have pain when swallowing or in the ear.
Typically, tonsil stones are not noticeable and do not lead to any further issues. However, there is always a chance that they could lead to a complication. Some of the issues that could arise include infection and swelling. If an infection becomes severe and is deep within the tonsil, it could form into an abscess, which requires immediate treatment to prevent the worsening or spreading of the infection.
What Is the Difference Between Tonsil Stones and Tonsillitis?
It can sometimes be confusing to know whether you have tonsillitis or tonsil stones. Both can produce pain, bad breath and swelling. Even looking at the tonsils may not clear up the confusion because both can look like white substances in the tonsil area. However, tonsillitis is a more serious condition that needs treatment to avoid it turning into a more serious illness.
Tonsillitis can be caused by a virus or bacteria. Viral tonsillitis will usually clear up on its own and will not react to antibiotics. It is the less serious form of the illness. Bacterial tonsillitis must be treated with antibiotics. It requires treatment so it will not spread or become a more serious infection.
Some clear signs that you have tonsillitis and not tonsil stones include the following symptoms:
- Stiff neck
- A white film covering the tonsils
In general, tonsillitis makes you feel sick whereas tonsil stones usually do not. Typically, treating bacterial tonsillitis with an antibiotic will clear up symptoms quickly. Your doctor should be able to tell the difference between the two conditions. If you are unsure, it is always best to seek treatment just in case you do have tonsillitis.
How Are Stones Treated?
Tonsil stones that are not causing problems or that do not lead to infections can often be treated with home remedies. You may be able to remove them yourself with a water pick. Do be advised that sticking anything in your throat could lead to injury, so using a gentle water pick is the best option. Another common option for at home tonsil stone removal is gargling, which can help to loosen the stone and ease discomfort. If you use salt water, it can also get rid of bacteria and help with bad breath related to the stone.
Sometimes you may not know you have a stone until you cough it up. Coughing can on occasion dislodge a stone and remove it from your body naturally. Even if you know you have a stone, you could try coughing to help move them out.
Some doctors may recommend using antibiotics to treat stones. Often, though, this method is only used if there is existing infection caused by bacteria. Long-term use of antibiotics is dangerous, and once you stop using the medication, your stones will likely return. So, this method is not usually used as a way to treat stones permanently. It can be a short-term solution and helpful if you get a bacterial infection.
If stones are causing you issues that you simply cannot live with, your doctor may recommend surgical removal. Most surgical options are minor and will be done under local anesthesia. Some examples of procedures include:
- Laser tonsil cryptolysis: This involves uses a laser to remove the areas where the stone is located. It usually does not cause much pain or require much recovery.
- Coblation cryptolysis: This procedure uses radio waves and a saline solution. It cuts out the stones and removes areas where they may be lodged but does not cause discomfort.
Another surgical option is a tonsillectomy. This is routinely done for people who have reoccurring tonsillitis. It removes the tonsils completely. However, its effectiveness at treating stones is not conclusive. Some doctors think it should only be used in severe cases where other treatments have not worked. It does not work in all cases, and some doctors will not even consider it as a treatment option for tonsil stones. A tonsillectomy is a major surgery. You have to be put under anesthesia, and recovery can be difficult. It is often done in children because they have a faster and easier recovery time. In adults, recovery can take weeks and may be very painful.
If a stone is not causing you issues, then you probably do not need to worry about removal it all. Your doctor may recommend just leaving it alone.
Can They Be Prevented?
You might be able to prevent tonsil stones through good oral hygiene. Since it is thought stones form due to excessive debris being caught in the tonsils, you can begin by ensuring you are not having debris that sits in your mouth and could end up stuck in your tonsils. Brush regularly after meals, floss every day and use a mouth rinse. Don't forget to also clean your tongue when brushing. You may also clean your tonsils using a water pick. Just aim the water stream at the tonsil area to help wash out excess debris.
Tonsil stones are more of a nuisance than a problem for most people. They also are not incredibly common, so the chances are pretty good that you will never have to deal with them. However, if you get tonsil stones and they become painful or irritating, then you might want to look into your options for tonsil stone removal.
Do keep in mind that tonsil stones may be preventable by maintaining good oral hygiene. If you notice you have reoccurring issues, think about taking steps to stop them from developing. Also, keep an eye on any stone you have to ensure it doesn't get infected, and seek a doctor's care if you are concerned about your condition.