My tonsils are driving me crazy.
May 22, 2015 4:32 PM   Subscribe

I've been plagued by tonsil stones (tonsilloliths) for the past few months and they are making me deeply unhappy. Have you had them and managed to get rid of them without a tonsillectomy? What did you do?

At the beginning of this year I had a cold with a very bad sore throat. I don't know if it shredded my tonsils or whatever, but afterwards I started getting tonsil stones for the first time in my life.

Mine seem to be relatively small compared to what other people have (most are like poppy seed sized, some are more like sesame seed size...blech) but they are causing me a huge amount of distress. Sometimes I will be eating or going about my business only to find my mouth flooding with the taste of the stones. I worry about my breath constantly, try to avoid facing people while speaking to them and have stopped going out on dates. I am often unable to find them despite considerable amounts of poking and prodding in my mouth (I probably spend up to an hour on this, 4-5 times a week), which leaves me gagging and retching. Yesterday my roommate asked me if I was bulimic, which brought this to an all new low.

My doctor said that a tonsillectomy is out of the question right now, since I am an adult (25 years old) and don't have a "bad" case (apparently my tonsils are pretty much normal sized despite being riddled with holes, and I don't have recurrent tonsillitis, though I have always got a lot of colds).

More information: I do have allergies and seem to have a bit of post-nasal drip, which I am trying to address in hopes this might fix the stones. My tonsils appear to be extremely cryptic -- one has 2 large holes and the other has 7-8 small ones.

Things I'm doing/having tried already:
Regular flossing, tongue scraping, and brushing with SLS-free toothpaste
Rinsing with alcohol-free, SLS-free mouthwash or hydrogen peroxide 3-4 times a day
Manually removing the stones almost every day with my hands, Q-tips and sterilized bobby pins (this gets out a lot of stones, but is extremely frustrating and not always successful)
Spraying my tonsils with a waterpik (did nothing)
Stopped my occasional smoking habit for good
Cut way back on dairy consumption
Daily Claritin, Neti-pot, and saline drops for my allergies (seems to be helping the post-nasal drip but I'm still getting the stones)

Have you had the stones and managed to eradicate them? What did you do? I'm willing to try pretty much anything as I'm reaching my wits' end here.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I had my tonsils removed at 23 because I had recurring tonsillitis, but the real reason I said yeah, let's do this crazy ass surgery is because my tonsil stones were wrecking my ability to live normally. My sinuses were perpetually infected, my tongue was disgusting, and I just couldn't deal with it anymore. Tonsillectomies are no joke, but my god, am I grateful I did mine even if it was an ordeal. I say talk to an ENT, not your GP, and say that you're willing to get yours removed because the side effects of cryptic tonsils = reduced quality of life. They should be willing to talk treatment then.
posted by Hermione Granger at 4:40 PM on May 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

I had a friend who got a little plastic syringe thing from her doc that allowed her to sort of flush the things out with more frequency. Sounds like what you could do with a waterpik but might be different and worth trying. I get frequent tonsil stones but after years of messing with them, they don't get stuff stuck in them anymore and I can sort of clean them out with my tongue in a few seconds. Not probably what you wanted to hear but it can improve.

I am with HG all the way though, try an ENT and get someone to give you some real options. Living this way is causing you distress and that's a medical issue. That said, in the meantime you could work on your anxiety about the whole thing and try to lower your stress level overall. I know this is gross and feels crappy but that doesn't mean you should stop dating just that you need to be a bit more mindful about interacting with folks.
posted by jessamyn at 4:43 PM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's not a permanent solution, but a phenol throat spray (a numbing spray like Chloraseptic) helps a lot with the gagging and retching parts.
posted by timeo danaos at 4:51 PM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Soak the end of a q-tip in hydrogen peroxide.
Swizzle the q-tip in your tonsil pockets.
The foaming helps draw out the tiny ones before they really form.
posted by phunniemee at 4:57 PM on May 22, 2015

What? Why is it out of the question to get them removed? I had my tonsils removed in my 20s simply because they got infected twice within a year. Being an adult doesn't matter and it's weird your doctor would use that as a reason not to get them removed, and my case also wasn't "bad" either. I have suffered zero negative effects of having my tonsils removed. See another doctor and get a second opinion. If you've been talking to your GP, go to an ENT. If your ENT gave you the bizarre explanation for why you can't get them removed, find a new ENT.
posted by AppleTurnover at 5:03 PM on May 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

My tonsil stones went away when I stopped smoking and was more careful about hydration, but it was several months, and not just a couple weeks. Not sure of your timeline, but that's one anecdote.
posted by shownomercy at 5:12 PM on May 22, 2015

I get them from time to time when my immune system is stressed. They suck! I feel your pain. But, I do think that you are taking it a bit too far by picking at them so much. Drink lots of water and warm tea. Do things that will boost your immune system. Eventually, they will go away, unless they are being caused by a mild allergy. Claritin has never done anything for me. Zyrtec works good for me and my daughter and mother use Allegra with great results. If you have carpet, get rid of it. Try sleeping with a hepa filter running all night, in a dust free, pet free, smoke free room. Chewing gum not only helps with the taste and smell but it keeps your mouth moist which helps with the healing process.
posted by myselfasme at 5:53 PM on May 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Your anxiety about the tonsil stones is really worrying if it's to the point that you won't face people in conversation or go on dates anymore. If the stones are as tiny as you say and your doing all the fairly extreme hygiene regimen you listed every day I can pretty much guarantee your breath is not bad or nowhere near how bad you apparently think it is.

I also worry about you regularly putting foreign objects like q-tips and bobby pins so far back in your throat - you could choke or end up with some nasty internal injuries if you lose your grip on it (which seems very possible if you're wretching the whole time like you describe). If nothing else, it's not great for your tonsils to be prodding at them with stuff everyday and irritating that fairly delicate tissue may possibly be making things worse.
posted by Kimmalah at 7:48 PM on May 22, 2015 [8 favorites]

Well, I for one believe you about the severity. Someone close to me had a tonsil stone problem and it was horrid. The smell would literally fill the room. He had his tonsils out and i have never noticed even mild bad breath ever since. If they're really that bad, just find a more like-minded ENT and have them out. It's not that big a deal--a few days watching tv and eating ice cream. Well worth it for a lifetime of not-foul breath.
posted by HotToddy at 8:37 PM on May 22, 2015

Research ENTs in your area, keep asking around until you find a good one, get a second opinion. It doesn't matter what age you are, and get them out before you find yourself gettig them out in the middle of a gross infection. I know someone who had them out in his thirties. They will effect your breathing and sleep, too.
posted by Oyéah at 9:47 PM on May 22, 2015

What you want to be using is a Monoject 412 syringe. Rinse twice a day, at least, and really try to get into the crevices. It'll probably take awhile for everything that's been in there to come out. It will take months or maybe even a couple years after that for the crypts to start shrinking to the point where they stop creating as many stones, as which point you don't have to rinse as often. I sometimes now get a bit of a sore throat and I'll do it, or I'll have a single small one come out and then I'll rinse and there will be a little more, but I can go weeks between--but when I first started doing it, it was much more often. I'm convinced that they make themselves worse--you leave them there and the crypts open further and collect more debris. When the crypts are empty, they eventually start contracting, less debris gets in. Having gotten familiar with my worst trouble spots, several of the ones that were a real problem when I started cleaning my tonsils now seem to be virtually closed.

I could never do this with a waterpik--I couldn't aim it properly or really get the water where it needed to go. The syringe is very precise. But like using a waterpik, it just became part of the routine as well as brushing my teeth until I hit the point where I could tell I didn't need it... and now it's like the neti pot, in that I keep a syringe even if I haven't needed it in months because it's always better to clean things out as soon as you notice a problem than to wait until it gets worse. And both come out more during spring allergy season than the rest of the year.
posted by Sequence at 10:05 PM on May 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

Get a second opinion on the tonsillectomy. I had terrible tonsilloliths and having my tonsils removed made life so much better. My reason was partly tonsilloliths and partly sinus infections and partly strep, but if I just had the tonsilloliths I had back then, I'd still want the surgery. Two weeks of unpleasant recovery and then ahhhhh, no more grossness.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:27 PM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding the above mentioned syringe to flush the holes or WITHOUT scraping your delicate tonsils (I really don't want to encourage you further, but also one of those pimple extractors is smaller, rounded, easier to control and more gentle than the end of a bobby pin, but the above syringe? Is the best tool, hands down - I figured this out independently, so it says something that we are all suggesting the same device!).

Also, as someone who has/had tonsilloliths, and spent a considerable amount of time cleaning them out, I am really worried about the level of obsessiveness you are describing, and the distress you are causing yourself. This is way overboard for the size you are talking about, in time, anxiety, and gagging. They are really common.

As gross as they were, and I get much bigger tonsil stones, and really deep crypts, no one else ever noticed - I even had someone who was on a health retreat compliment me on my breath and tongue cleanliness (*!?!*), because it turns out that as most people don't clean their tongues etc, while I knew about my little pockets of grossness, all they noticed was that my mouth was cleaner than average. This blew me away, obviously!

Do your best to dial back the picking and obsessing, because I'm worried about you, and worried your tonsils are being further irritated.

Now, what actually made my tonsilloliths go away? Sorting out my allergies! This is KEY.
First, if you have multiple allergies, they tend to magnify each other, or act in unison, so go to every effort to avoid the ones you *can*, and the others won't be as much of a problem.
If dust mites affect you, regularly put your pillows, then duvets etc in a dryer on hot for 20mins to kill them, and put and allergen cover on your mattress. Have a shower BEFORE bed, to wash off any allergens you have been exposed to, so you get an 8 hour break.
Identify your allergies. The crucial part for me, was figuring out I just have a wheat allergy. Once i cut it out completely, post nasal drip, gone. Tonsilloliths, gone most of the year (sometimes hayfever his me slightly), I need an hour or two less sleep, and my life is just that much less miserable.

If you need something to DO to express your stress about this, go on a total allergy war of offensive! Make your bedroom and house a contact allergen free sanctuary, and figure out if you have any food allergies. If you suspect, cut it out for two weeks, then see what happens when you have it again.

Best of luck.
posted by Elysum at 2:50 AM on May 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

I've had a couple doctors say 'no' to removing mine.

I get stones randomly, and I by now I know when they're there. I massage/squeeze them out, kind of aggressively, and clean with a q-tip like you mentioned. Salt water gargles helped after I had pushed out the stones.

I never did figure out a pattern for when they appeared. I have hard-core pollen allergies, but they never correlated with hay fever season. Not smoking reduced the number of incidents, but not completely. And it's been awhile since they have appeared ... I wish I knew what I'm doing differently.
posted by kanewai at 3:32 AM on May 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I know that you tried the Waterpik and it didn't work for you but I got one and it changed my life. Or rather I bought a waterpik tip, stuck it on some silicone hose and attached it directly to the faucet. This "tooth-blaster" is the only thing that will get out my tonsil stones. It has also saved me several times when something (like shrimp shells) gets stuck in between your tooth and gum. Also great for cleaning things in general. It is like a mini pressure washer.
posted by Infernarl at 6:48 AM on May 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

First of all, seconding the point that you very well could injure yourself. Twice, during more anxious times, I've quite literally gotten unbent paperclips stuck in my tonsils. You've never been terrified like that, I tell you. I was fine, but I bled a lot and it was super scary. I now only use fingers or q-tips to clean out tonsil stones. I'd recommend you do the same. The bobby pin thing is a slippery slope.

I really think obsessive tonsil maintenance--yours, my own--is an anxiety thing, not a health thing. I also compulsively skin pick. Do you?

Honestly, I think that tonsil stones are supposed to be there. Hear me out: your body is expelling foreign matter from your tonsils in a way that's relatively painless, even if it's annoying. During my peak tonsil-poking stage, I found the crypts--and the stones--getting much bigger. I'm pretty sure I enlarged some of the crypts, creating bigger pockets for stones to form. So I mostly stopped (especially after the second paper clip incident). And the stones have gotten smaller and smaller. I only poke at them if I really feel one, and that happens less and less--once a month or so.

And yet, all this said, while I do suffer occasional colds now that I'm the mother to a toddler, my tonsils pretty much never get infected. I'm guessing because stuff doesn't stick around in my tonsils that long before my body pushes it out. Tonsil surgery is supposed to be incredibly painful and you can still get tonsil stones.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:24 AM on May 23, 2015 [5 favorites]

Turning 26 this year and I had my tonsils removed in the beginning of May. It was horrible but omg no more tonsil stones!! It was worth the pain. My ENT was more than willing to agree to the surgery after coming back the second time to complain about the damn stones. She said it's a pretty routine surgery, I wonder why your doctor is saying its out of the question.
posted by driedmango at 2:24 PM on May 23, 2015

I had pretty much exactly the same thing. As a last resort before surgery my doctor put me on Flonase, a nasal steroid spray, morning and evening. It took a little while to kick in, like a week or 10 days, but now I have stones only rarely. In the U.S., Flonase is now over the counter, so you might could try this on your own.

And like everyone said, stop hurting your tonsils. If I feel a stone I just push gently with a finger and if it doesn't come out I wait and try again many hours later.
posted by procrastination at 6:42 PM on May 23, 2015

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