Tonsil stones or referred as tonsilloliths, are hard and painful buildup of bacteria and debris that block the nooks on your tonsils. Tonsils are gland-like structures in the back of your throat and there is one on each side. Tonsils are made up of tissue with cells that help in preventing and fighting off infections, called lymphocytes. Several experts believe that your tonsils play a crucial role in your immune system and function as a net that traps bacteria and viruses that come in through your throat. According to a research, people who get their tonsils removed are not at a greater risk of catching bacterial or viral infections than people with who keep their tonsils.
What are your tonsils? These are mainly filled with nooks and crannies where bacteria and other substances such as dead cells and mucus, can get trapped like in a net. Because of this reason, the debris can also come together and get more hardened and calcified. This plays the main role in the formation of tonsil stones. This happens mostly with people who have recurring or persistent inflammation in their tonsils. A lot of people even have small tonsilloliths, but it is very rare to have a large tonsil stone. The tonsil stones that are asymptomatic don't even require treatment in some cases. It depends on their size and if they are causing any discomfort. You can choose surgical removal, antibiotics or other helpful natural ways at home. Onlymyhealth editorial team spoke to Dr. Shashidhar, TB, Head - Surgery (ENT), Artemis Hospitals, Gurgaon, about the symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment for tonsil stones.
Tonsil stones symptoms
Small tonsil stones might not even cause any signs that you can notice. Some people don't even experience any symptoms with tonsil stones. Even when they are larger in size, some tonsil stones are diagnosed only after some tests like X-rays or CT scans. According to Dr. Shashidhar, the 6 main symptoms of tonsil stones are:
1. Bad breath
Once tonsil stones build in your throat, they start to swell, this swelling can be painful and cause fever. Sometimes pus starts to build in these stones, which can lead to foul breath. Sometimes due to swelling food particles gets stuck and starts to rot which can cause bad breath, this all happens because of bacterial growth in our mouth.
2. Sore throat
Tonsils help us fight against infections but they also get affected. The inflammation in tonsils can cause pain in throat. It can be caused by both viruses and bacteria, viral infections are worse tend to stay longer. It can also lead to difficulty in speaking and swallowing food. Soups are a good food option when you are suffering from tonsillitis.
3. Difficulty in swallowing
Another symptom of tonsil stones is difficulty in swallowing. Infections in tonsils cause sore throat, which can result in difficulty in swallowing. It does not happen due to inadequate bite size or hot food, it is also difficult to swallow saliva even during talking or laughing.
Coughing occurs due to dry throat. We keep swallowing the saliva during normal days which keeps our throat moist. As the infections interfere with swallowing, it can lead to coughing. It may also occur due to the inflammation in your throat.
5. Ear pain
Most of the times tonsils become fine within two to three days with proper care and precautions.But in few cases it can lead to an infection in the form of abscess between tonsils and walls of throat, it can also include infection in the fluid of middle ear. Another symptom of tonsil stones is swelling in tonsils.
What causes tonsil stones?
According to Dr. Shashidhar, tonsil stones are caused by the bacteria and other debris forming together and getting trapped on the tonsils, like in a net. These days, more people have tonsil stones as tonsillectomies are less common now than they once were at some point. Removing the tonsils to prevent tonsillitis used to be a very common way a while ago. Now, tonsillectomies are considered as the last course of treatment. Tonsil stones basically form when this debris hardens, or calcifies. The chances of this happening are higher in people who have prolonged inflammation in their tonsils or are facing a recurring issue. Many people have small tonsilloliths, but it it rare to have a large tonsil stone.
Tonsil stones diagnosis and treatment
In most patients, the doctor can diagnose tonsil stones by doing a physical exam. If they are covered in the folds of your tonsils, then it might require some imaging tests, such as CT or MRI scans, to find them. Tonsil stones look like small white or yellow flecks present at the back of the throat. A large stone is easier to locate and diagnose. Some are large enough that they can be seen coming out of the tonsils, looking like tiny rocks trapped in the mouth. As per Dr. Shashidhar, the preferred course of treatment for tonsil stones is their surgical removal. This way is only taken if the tonsil stones are large in size. There are two home remedies that can help in treating tonsil stones naturally, such as:
1. Saltwater gargles
Lukewarm saltwater gargles is an effective home remedy that comes first in your mind if you are suffering from cough, soar throat, throat pain and cold. The warm water has the power to provide relaxation in pain and open up any kind of blockage. Just put half teaspoon of salt in half cup of warm water. Mix and gargle it out after a few seconds. You can even take in the the last sip of that water inside. Do this twice a day daily and you will see the improvement in a week. A warm saltwater gargle can help in loosening tonsil stones. Saltwater gargles can give relief with a sore and scratchy throat. This effective home remedy is even suggested by doctors for small stones.
2. Cotton swab
Another home remedy that the expert suggested was to use a cotton swab to loosen the stones and gently put pressure on the tissue immediately surrounding it. The aim is to position the tonsil stones to the swab and then push forward to make it towards the front side of your mouth instead of back in the throat. Be careful while doing this and do not to push too hard, as you can increase the chances of i risk injuring the back of your throat. Do not use your finger or anything sharp while trying this home remedy for tonsil stone treatment.
So, these were the symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment of tonsil stones by Dr. Shashidhar. Preventing the growth of tonsil stones is almost impossible. But, the best way to keep yourself safe from tonsil stones is by keeping good dental hygiene, regular flossing and brushing. Mouthwashes and daily gargles can help in hydrating the tonsils and mouth, hence removing debris and bacteria, which decreases the risk of tonsil stones. If you experience any of the above listed symptoms, it is best to visit a specialist for the same. Do not leave it untreated if the signs are too much discomforting.
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