Brother and I are suffering from mysterious tonsil stones
July 14, 2011 8:08 PM   Subscribe

My brother and I are afflicted by tonsil stones (Tonsiliths) Please help us discover the cause and solution.

I am a 26m and I currently live with my 16yo brother. I started getting tonsil stones about a year ago. They would appear every couple of months. Over the past 6 months, my brother has also developed reoccurring tonsil stones. Mine come and go every few weeks, and so do his. We rarely eat the same foods (i eat healthy, he eats poorly). We use completely different dental hygiene products (i use all natural, he uses normal toothpaste+alcohol based mouthwash) We each normally drink milk and water, and occasionally a diet soda. I was never afflicted by these tonsil stones until last year, and I assumed it was from poor diet and heavy marijuana smoking, both of which I have quit for over 11 months. When I went to see my doctor regarding a serious sore throat, I told him about my tonsil stones and he offered no advice. Any ideas on what could be causing these tonsil stones and what could be the solution? Thank you
posted by AMWKE1984 to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: For me, the only thing that fixed my tonsil stones was having my tonsils out this year. Tonsil stones are caused by particularly craterous tonsils and deposits of bacteria, food, and (super gross I know) dead skin cells. It doesn't matter if you eat well or not; tonsil stones will increase in frequency if your tonsils are having a hard time getting rid of infections. It is quite possible that your tonsils, like mine were, are starting to fail. If you both can take off two to three weeks to have a tonsillectomy, you will feel much, much better. Adults generally don't need their tonsils after a while, so it's not that big a deal to have them taken out. The surgery and the recovery period (which I documented in detail for the purposes of sharing what helped me get over the whole debacle in less than two weeks) are well worth not having tonsil stones any more.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:15 PM on July 14, 2011

The milk could be a contributor. I go through phases with them, and I find that they are worse when I am consuming alot of dairy products.
posted by cabingirl at 8:17 PM on July 14, 2011

Former tonsil stones sufferer here. I started getting them in my late teens for no apparent reason at all. At the onset I ate a poor diet, but they persisted even when I switched to healthier fare. I finally dealt with them last year by seeing an ENT and getting a tonsillectomy. The recovery is not a lot of fun for an adult, but worth banishing tonsil stones forever.
posted by madforplaid at 8:18 PM on July 14, 2011

I became prone to tonsilleths a few years ago, and I think it was because my tonsils had "raspberried", as my doctor put it. They had really deep pits so it was easy for food particles to get stuck in there and infected. Because they were combined with frequent sore throats, I was able to get the ENT doc to sign off on a tonsillectomy. Depending on the frequency of your sore throats, you can definitely make a case for getting them taken out. Other than that, there's not really a solution, unfortunately.
posted by emkelley at 8:20 PM on July 14, 2011

Jesus, I hate these things. I only get them in one of my tonsils (one has a big crater, as TBofF puts it, the other is relatively smooth), but they're still gross and obnoxious. I pretty much only get them after eating nuts, which I don't eat too often. I drink tons of milk every day and have never smoked, so I don't think those are necessarily causes.

The best way I've found to get rid of them is to flex your tonsils out and express them with a q-tip. Do you know what I mean by flex your tonsils out? I don't really know how to describe it. Go to a mirror, open your mouth, stick your tongue out, and I guess...say AHHH...until you can clearly see the tonsil stone. Take a q-tip (it helps if you get it wet first so it slides around easier) and find the base of the tonsil stone in the crater. Press (gently!) at the base until the tonsil stone moves out. At this point, your gag reflex will probably trigger, and you'll cough out the tonsil stone. (Do it into the sink...those suckers are nasty.)

Anyway, that works for me. Avoid nuts, have q-tips at the ready.
posted by phunniemee at 8:21 PM on July 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I had them with similar frequency when I was about 23-26, but I can't even remember the last time that I had one (I'm 28 now). I don't think my diet has changed drastically, and I still consume a pretty lot of dairy (daily milk, yogurt, and cheese). I have absolutely no idea why they went away.
posted by gatorae at 8:22 PM on July 14, 2011

Yargh. I got these secondary to strep throat infections (which kept recurring. The doc said the strep bacteria were being held in there) and the only thing that got rid of them was getting rid of the tonsils.
posted by jet_silver at 8:38 PM on July 14, 2011

Same experience as gatorae, I had these for a couple years, but they stopped as mysteriously as they started. A good thing to consider before you look into expensive surgical solutions.
posted by wowbobwow at 9:04 PM on July 14, 2011

My SO has a little water jet tool that dislodges them easily.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:12 PM on July 14, 2011

I had them for a while when my allergies were really bad and I was taking allergy medication every day (Claritin). When I stopped, the tonsil stones largely vanished, although I don't know if that was because I bough air purifiers for every room in my house and hence when I'm at home my allergies are non-existent, or because I stopped taking the medication.
posted by winna at 9:19 PM on July 14, 2011

I get them all the time since having a fairly bad case of bronchitis a few years ago. Like phunniemee, I express them--usually on a semi-nightly basis. Depends how bad your gag reflex is, but I usually just take a flashlight, stick a (clean!) finger in, and push them out. If they're really bad, I take a q-tip dipped in hydrogen peroxide and swab them; the carbonation pushes them out.

I've actually gotten far fewer colds (like, none) since getting them regularly, but who knows (correlation is not causation). Still, I like to think that this is just my tonsils doing their job--first line of defense of the immune system in trapping foreign bacteria and such. They're annoying, but not particularly troublesome, and I can't imagine going through what is, by all accounts, fairly unfun surgery because of it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:31 PM on July 14, 2011

I had a year-long problem with them five years ago. They went away once I got my allergies under control, which I did largely with saline sinus flushes every morning. That reduced the itchy post-nasal drip to the point where my throat wasn't a mess. Correlation? Yeah. Causation? Not losing sleep over it.
posted by dws at 9:53 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I get tonsil stones A LOT (Every few days) and have since I was a little kid. In my case they seem to be due primarily to my deep tonsil pockets, not chewing my food properly (I eat a lot of cereal/grains/crumby food), and high spit production. Lopping out the tonsils seems to be the nuke 'em from orbit option.

Thanks for the q-tip hydrogen peroxide trick, PhoBWanKenobi!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:04 PM on July 14, 2011

I also have a pretty crazy post-nasal drip situation, so that's another correlation for dws.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:06 PM on July 14, 2011

I used to get them quite a bit, and did the q-tip hydrogen peroxide thing to get them out. What eventually made them go away permanently was when I got my allergies under control by getting regular allergy shots (dairy was not an issue and I still consume a fair amount.)
posted by gudrun at 10:27 PM on July 14, 2011

I used to get them quite a bit. They seemed to have gone away about the same time I had an upper endoscopy and got my GERD under control. Correlated? Coincidence? I don't know, but if you have indigestion / GERD issues it might be worth exploring.
posted by COD at 5:53 AM on July 15, 2011

I use a irrigating syringe like this to flush them out. I tried using q-tips before but they set off my hair-trigger gag reflex.
posted by Dr-Baa at 6:27 AM on July 15, 2011

I get these too. The only suggestion a doctor ever offered me was gargling with salt water. I recently had a case of strep throat, which caused my tonsils to grow huge and horribly disgusting. I asked about having them removed, but the doctor cautioned that it was a very painful procedure.
posted by orme at 6:34 AM on July 15, 2011

I got them all the time, because my tonsils were huge and pitted. I had my tonsils removed and have been so very glad that I did. Recovery hurt and took two weeks, but it was worth it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:06 AM on July 15, 2011

I had my tonsils out when I was 34. The first few days were not fun, and it was a few weeks before I felt back to normal (and food tasted tinny for a few months afterwards). But it was completely worth it-- I'd forgotten what it felt like to be living without a constant low-level infection.
posted by jokeefe at 9:23 AM on July 15, 2011

Best answer: Perhaps there is something in the air of the place you are living that has caused your tonsils to become infected and pitted. I think I read somewhere that black mold can cause your tonsils to swell. Do you feel like you have had nasal drip or a nagging cold? Is there a musty smell in your place? Living quarters seems to be the only thing you and your brother have in common that would create this problem.
posted by Foam Pants at 10:43 AM on July 15, 2011

Please note that adults have a higher risk of post-operative bleeding (up to 10 days after) and side effects than children. It isn't really awful (I think it is something like 5% higher), but it is worth noting and asking your doctor what to expect post-op.

As for the stones, my husband gets them bad. I have heard one of the best ways to get them out is a waterpik. A q-tip pressed into the back is also a good way to get them out, just be careful not to choke on it or stab yourself (same goes for using CLEAN fingers).
posted by ForeverDcember at 12:40 PM on July 15, 2011

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