Diagnosing Tonsil Stones

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Tonsil stones, also known as tonsilloliths, are formed when decaying material is trapped in the crevices of your tonsils. Most people have small tonsil stones that do not cause noticeable symptoms. As a result, this condition is often discovered incidentally via X-rays or CT scans.

Your tonsils (the palatine tonsils) are two, oval-shaped lymphatic organs that are located on either side of the back of your throat. Each tonsil is covered by a surface of pink mucosa, which contains small pits and channels that are known as the tonsillar crypts. Debris such as food particles, dead cells, mucus, and microorganisms like viruses and bacteria can accumulate in these crypts. Once these materials begin to decay, they can become concentrated into round, pale tonsil stones.

Anyone can develop tonsil stones. However, this condition is most common in children and young adults who have a history of persistent throat infections. In general, tonsil stones do not create noticeable symptoms. Some patients with larger, solidified tonsil stones may experience symptoms such as bad breath, recurrent sore throat, swollen tonsils, difficulty swallowing, and earaches. Visible white debris is also noted among some individuals with larger tonsil stones as well.

While many individuals develop small tonsil stones repeatedly, only a few patients suffer from large, solidified tonsil stones. Those who do experience this latter, more-problematic form of tonsil stones are often unaware of the cause of their discomfort. Your family doctor usually makes an official diagnosis during an oral examination of your throat. Sometimes, he or she may order additional imaging studies to confirm this diagnosis and to pinpoint the size and location of the tonsil stones.

If you suspect that you may be experiencing tonsil stones, see your doctor for an oral examination. He or she can determine whether you have this condition and can suggest treatments to help you manage your symptoms. In most cases, your tonsil stones will not create any significant symptoms or long-term health issues, and therefore no substantial treatment or surgery will be necessary after your diagnosis. For patients with recurrent, problematic tonsil stones, however, the tonsils may require more extensive methods such as a tonsillectomy.

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