A loyal reader asked me to write a Medical Minute about Tonsiloliths, aka tonsil stones, also called tonsil calculus, pebbles, tonsil corn, etc. There is very little medical literature on tonsiloliths and your doctor may not have even heard of them. Some doctors mistakenly diagnose the yellowish tonsil calculi as a throat infection and prescribe antibiotics.

Tonsil stones usually affect adults who never had their tonsils removed. The stones are formed in crypts and crevices of your tonsils usually after you’ve had a bout of tonsilitis (infection of the throat). A tonsil stone may feel like a foreign object trapped in the side of your throat such as a popcorn kernel. You may be tempted to dig them out, but that is not advised.

The tonsils are lymphoid tissue on either side of your throat that act as part of your immune system to protect against infection. Crypts and crevices in your tonsils can run deep. Undigested food particles may become trapped inside these crypts where they are acted upon by bacteria and your immune system.

The undigested food is encapsulated inside a cheesy material that oozes out of your tonsils and adenoids and hardens into a foul smelling yellowish stone (calculous).

The stones can vary in size from as small as a grain of sand to pea size. The tonsils stones eventually work themselves out of your tonsils when you cough or clear your throat, and land on your tongue. Some tonsil stones form in the back of your throat where they are hidden from view.

Affected adults mistake tonsil stones for regurgitated food particles. But they’re not. Tonsil stones are harmless, but they can be annoying and can contribute to halitosis (bad breath). The only known cure is to have your tonsils removed in a procedure known as a tonsillectomy.

Gargling with warm salt water or half strength hydrogen peroxide (half peroxide, half water) can be effective in helping to dislodge the stones. Gargling every night may also prevent the stones from forming.

Again, avoid going after the stones or attempting to dig them out with items such as toothpicks, bobby pins, paper clips, q-tips, pens, pencils, or your fingernails!

This has been your Medical Minute.

As always, consult with your doctor or health practitioner for more information or if you experience symptoms such as sore throat, fever, persistent, productive cough, swollen lymph nodes in your neck. Those symptoms could be signs of a more serious medical problem.

Info on the Web

Tonsilolith – Wiki