What are tonsils and what do they do?
The tonsils are a pair of structures that are found on both sides of the mouth, in the back, by the base of the tongue. The surface of the tonsils are somewhat irregular and vary from person to person with some having deep pits and craters.
The tonsils are thought to be components of our immune system. When they’re healthy and functioning normally, they help fight infection that enters our body through our nose or mouth though removing them when necessary typically has no negative impact on our immune system and our body’s ability to fight off infection.
If you or your child are suffering from sore throats, tonsillitis may be the culprit. Tonsillitis refers to inflammation of the tonsils, two round pieces of lymphoid tissue at the back of the mouth or throat. This is a very common condition in children, seen mostly from preschool through the teenage years, but can also occur later in life. Tonsillitis is often due to a viral or bacterial infection. Many people are familiar with the term “strep throat,” which specifically refers to tonsillitis caused by the Streptococcus bacteria.
A person with tonsillitis will frequently experience a sore throat and may notice swelling or redness of the tonsils. There may be white patches in the throat, a fever, bad breath, or swelling of lymph nodes in the neck. Signs of a more serious infection include changes in voice, difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, or difficulty opening the mouth.
Treatment of tonsillitis typically includes rest, hydration and antibiotics if the infection is bacterial. A tonsillectomy, or removal of the tonsils, is considered when there are recurrent infections, or when there a child has a snoring problem with signs of sleep apnea. Surgery is performed under anesthesia, typically as an outpatient, with a one to two- week recovery period.
Tonsil stones, also called tonsilliths or tonsil calculi, aren’t actual rocks but rather a collection of hardened food particles, bacteria and mucus that become caught and compacted into the pits of the tonsils. Depending on how deep the pits are, you may or may not be able to see them yourself when looking at your tonsils in a mirror.
What are the symptoms of tonsil stones?
Tonsil stones can cause tonsil irritation, swelling and redness as well as bad breath. Bad breath is caused from the bacteria that accumulates on the tonsil stones. In rare cases, tonsil stones may cause tonsillitis, an infection of the tonsils, and there are some they may not have any symptoms other than minor irritation.
How do you treat tonsil stones?
For recurrent tonsil stones that are bothersome or cause issues, the most effective treatment is a tonsillectomy or removal of the tonsils. This is a very simple, outpatient procedure that by removing the tonsils, eliminates the chance of tonsil stones forming.
If surgery is not an option, there are ways to gently remove the tonsil stones but any treatment should be discussed with a doctor before being started.
At Advanced Specialty Care, our Ear, Nose & Throat Specialists treat both children and adults for tonsillitis, tonsil stones and adenoid problems in our Danbury, Ridgefield, New Milford and Norwalk offices.