Two years ago, I had a sore throat for about a week. I've always been susceptible to strep throat, so I figured it was just that. But a visit to the doctor left me a little stunned.
"You have tonsil stones," he said.
Huh? What are those? Are they like kidney stones? Do I need surgery? I'm gonna need more info, doc!
He went on to explain that tonsil stones, or tonsilloliths, are basically balls of bacteria and debris that build up in your throat. Your tonsils are essentially barriers that are meant to stop bacteria from getting into your throat. They're covered in little nooks and crannies that are supposed to trap the debris, but sometimes that debris gets trapped. This is when tonsil stones form.
For me, I have small tonsils which means there's less space for the same amount of bacteria to get stuck to. As the trapped debris hardens, the stones form and solidify, which end up causing problems. Many people have tonsilloliths in their tonsils, but not everyone can feel the effects. Because of my small tonsils, they were much more noticeable.
So how do you know if you have tonsil stones?
1. Bad Breath
Because the bacteria is basically sitting at the back of your throat, bad breath is a common indicator of tonsil stones. Researchers found that 75% of people who had high concentrations of sulfur compounds in their breath also had tonsil stones.
2. Sore Throat
This is how I knew something was wrong. Depending on the size of your stones, it can cause discomfort in your throat. Plus, the presence of bacteria can also cause you to get sick. If you have a sore throat, it's best to get in touch with your doctor to see what the cause is.
3. Trouble Swallowing
To this day I still have issues with this. It almost feels like a click when I swallow because of the stones. It's not necessarily painful, but the location of the stone can make it tricky to swallow certain foods.
4. White Debris
When my first tonsil stone flew out of my mouth (literally) I was driving to get groceries and singing along to my favorite song. I assumed it was a piece of food or something that had been lodged in my throat, but after visiting the doctor it all made sense. It's just a small lump of white "gunk" that can often be seen at the back of your throat, but it's strange to see it come out of your mouth. Not all tonsil stones can be seen, but they definitely are there.