If you’re currently suffering from bad breath, pain in your ears and a feeling that something is stuck in the back your throat, it’s very likely you have tonsil stones, or tonsilloliths.1 Tonsil stones is a condition wherein your tonsils literally produce small, hard substances that contain a mixture of bacteria, calcium, dead cells, mucus and food particles.2 This causes unpleasant symptoms, which can be a source of embarrassment.
Normally, your tonsils serve as the first line of defense against viruses and bacteria. They have crypts that contain immune system cells, which help eliminate harmful microbes from entering your throat.3 However, factors such as poor dental hygiene and chronic sinus issues can cause your tonsils to gather foreign matter, which harden and become stones. In other cases, you may simply have large crypts, which increases your likelihood of gathering small bits of food.4
Treating Tonsil Stones at Home
There are various approaches to treating tonsil stones naturally. Popular home remedies include:5,6
• Saltwater solution: Gargling warm water with a bit of salt can help dislodge the stones and alleviate throat irritation.
• Coughing: This method can be used only if the stones are small and easily removable. Excessive coughing can damage your throat.
• Cotton swab: You can use a wet cotton swab to gently loosen and push out the stones. Gargle to remove remaining debris afterward.
• Medicine dropper: If the stones have a softer consistency, you can use a medicine dropper to vacuum them. Simply aim the dropper’s opening on the stones, then pinch and release the other end to create suction.
• Yogurt: The probiotics found in yogurt can help eliminate the bacteria in the stones to reduce their size.
If home remedies do not work, you may need to consult a doctor for surgery. Primary methods include coblation, which dissolves tonsil tissue,7 and tonsillectomy, which is the removal of your tonsils.8 Both procedures have their own advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important that you discuss them thoroughly with your doctor first.
Other Conditions That May Affect the Tonsils
Certain conditions may be confused with tonsil stones, such as:9
• Tonsillitis: The main indicator of this condition is red, swollen tonsils that make swallowing difficult. It is usually caused by viruses, but Streptococcus strains may be a potential cause as well.10
• Strep throat: This condition is specifically caused by the Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria, which causes throat pain, swollen tonsils, painful swallowing, fever and tiny red spots at the back of your mouth.11
• Gum disease and tooth decay: The pain caused by tooth decay can radiate outward and affect adjacent organs such as the jaw, ears and throat. In addition, it can cause swollen tonsils due to the presence of bacteria.
• Tonsil cancer: Also known as tonsil lymphoma, this condition usually causes a sore in the back of the mouth that does not heal. It also causes blood to appear, swallowing difficulties and pain in the ears and throat.
Learn How to Detect Tonsil Stones With This Guide
Tonsil stones can be very bothersome, but fortunately they are treatable. This guide will educate you about everything you need to know about the condition, from its causes to treatment and prevention.