Small stinky whitish balls coming out of my throat.
May 30, 2006 9:35 PM   Subscribe

Small whitish soft-hard stinky balls coming out of my throat once in blue moon when I cough hard. They have a foul smell. I can't see them inside my mouth. But they occassionally 'fall out' when I cough. The odour is soooo bad. At first I thought they were food particles, but no.. this has happened atleast 2-3 times in the past week. They are not big at all, they're very small.. no particular shape. What is it, and how do I get rid of them?
posted by Devileyezz to Health & Fitness (40 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Tonsil stones.
posted by kcm at 9:37 PM on May 30, 2006

Oh I get these, my ENT said it's food that's been partially digested and not to worry unless it gets too bothersome and then we can remove my tonsils.
posted by yodelingisfun at 9:44 PM on May 30, 2006

You're not going to believe this, Devileyezz, but this has been asked here at least twice already. Here's one time, but right now I don't have time to go back and find the other one.
posted by iconomy at 9:45 PM on May 30, 2006

Response by poster:
I apologize, iconize. I've spent atleast 15 minutes trying to search, but more than half the time I didn't even know what I'm looking for.

However, getting tonsils removed is so surgical. And I just don't wanna go through surgery.

Are there any alternatives?

PS: Nothing to worry, but I wouldn't wanna kiss the women in my life. :-(
posted by Devileyezz at 9:47 PM on May 30, 2006

The alternative is to realize that there isn't really a problem, and to live with it.

I had that happen when I was younger. It's no big deal.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:53 PM on May 30, 2006

My roommate had this problem. Let me ask her in the morning.
posted by radioamy at 10:15 PM on May 30, 2006

Ive had this a few times.
My theory was that it was some waste product of your tonsils when you are sick, As I was never feeling too well when I had them.
Reading kcm's link is a bit scary though as it seems to suggest that they could of been the cause of my sore throat..
posted by phyle at 10:35 PM on May 30, 2006

My sister gets them (at least she used to -- surprisingly, we haven't discussed it recently). As I recall, her preventative technique seemed to involve regularly gargling with hydrogen peroxide; failing that, she'd just grab 'em out with tweezers.

Needless to say, I'm happy to have been tonsil-free for the last 30 years.
posted by scody at 10:38 PM on May 30, 2006

Yeah, both my wife and I get these. Usually when we are suffering from very bad allergies, but most often when suffering from sinus infections or sinus issues. I've always attributed it to drainage from sinuses accumulating on tonsils. It's very gross. And they range from tiny to disturbingly large. Not that this explains anything for you, but at least you're not alone. :)
posted by smallerdemon at 10:43 PM on May 30, 2006

Oh, KCM, thanks for the link. Great explanation. And a lot more interesting that I ever would have imagined. Also explains why maybe some folks in the current generation may be getting more of these. A lot of us probably never had out tonsils out when we were kids. (I'm 40 now, and I never had mine out.)
posted by smallerdemon at 10:50 PM on May 30, 2006

I had a few tonsil stones in my teens/twenties - trapped food or bacteria that just sits in folds in the back of my throat or tonsils and then can come out as a small swamp smelling yellowish ball.

I've had no experience since, so I guess maturation no longer makes this possible.

Since the young get tonsil stones, I wonder if really traped ones are the cause of tonsillitis? I havn't heard of any post-20s person with this problem.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 10:55 PM on May 30, 2006

A good friend of mine gets these regularly, and he's 35-ish. He says that certain foods such as granola, nuts, and oats tend to get trapped back there and cause them, so he avoids eating them (which is how the subject came up one day). I never thought to ask him about his tonsils though.
posted by yellowcandy at 11:34 PM on May 30, 2006

I get them when I've had a lot of recent sinus activity, or when I go through snoring phases. Nothing particularly unhealthy about them, though not real pleasant. My ENT basically said what was said above - the nasty byproduct of bacterial activity.
posted by Dunwitty at 12:08 AM on May 31, 2006

Tonsil stones / tonsiloths

as far as I understand it ... its is bacteria and its by-products. Do you snore? Do you have post nasal drip? Phlegm in the back of your throat? Smoke/ drink a lot? High lactose intake? Constantly blocked nose? Sinus problems? Any one of the above? There you go!

The bacteria can only survive in oxygen poor environments ... like the back of the throat if covered in phlegm ... so you can treat it by removing the phlegm (gargle with salty water ... and snort salty water into the nose and out through the mouth a few times ... takes some practice but it is easy (and do it in the shower)) and making it an oxygen rich environment through gargling for 2 minutes with 1.5% hydrogen peroxide which you can buy at your local pharmacy (my pharmacy has 3% which I dilute) (do not use a cleaning product!).

Make sure you rinse out well between the salt water and the hydrogen peroxide ... both are harmless in small amounts but they do not mix (and if they do give me pains in my teeth!). Do this twice a day and REMOVE THE CAUSE OF THE PHELGM! and your problem will disappear in a few weeks to a month!

If you smoke … S T O P !

To deal with the immediate problem scrape them out of your tonsils (and the roof of your mouth near there) with your fingernail!

Normal, non hydrogen peroxide, mouthwashes (like Listerine etc.) do nothing to help as they do not breakdown the phlegm which acts as a barrier!

Permanent cures involve removal of the tonsils and/or cauterising (so sealing) the cracks in which the tonsiloths live in … see you ENT specialist about this … and keep looking till you find one who knows what he is talking about as most do not!

Good luck
posted by jannw at 1:26 AM on May 31, 2006

I get these occasionally and it always 'feels' like they're there all the time but I can't get them out, it's all too bumpy and sensitive back down there and makes me gag if I try. I ignore it now though. They don't seem to affect my breath unless they're ready to come up (and I have a woman who doesn't mind telling me when things are bad in that department!) :)

If you really want some fun, break one open. There's always a solid lump in the middle. It's like pearl hunting for sickos.
posted by wackybrit at 1:37 AM on May 31, 2006

To people who say they still get Tonsil Stones:
Please mention how old you are. I experenced them slightly in my teens/twenties and have had none thereafter. Is this condition involved in "tonsillitis" which I think only strikes the young?

Has anybody had their tonsils removed after the age of 20?
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 2:16 AM on May 31, 2006

My wife suffered from tonsil stones (she used to have her dentist pick them out for her...) & had her tonsils removed last year at the age of 30.

Operation was fairly straight forward (if a bit painful for a few days afterwards) but a week later she did develop an infection which then haemorrhaged in a very dramatic fashion, had to be rushed to hospital & have emergency surgery to fix the ruptured vessel.

Scary stuff at the time, but after a few days in hospital, all was fixed & she's fine now. Apparantly haemorrhage is a "normal" risk of tonsil removal anything up to a week or ten days after surgery....

And she was told that the latest theory is that it is not necessarily bacterial but is some sort of calcification problem, similar to kidney stones (which she also gets from time to time), so there was really nothing she could change about her oral hygiene routine which would help (she was & is very thorough in that department anyway....)

Anyway, best to find an ENT specialist who has experience of them...
posted by khites at 3:45 AM on May 31, 2006

Is this condition involved in "tonsillitis" which I think only strikes the young?

Only indirectly.

First, tonsillitis doesn't only strike the young. Ever had a sore throat? Then you've probably had tonsillitis. Removal of the tonsils because of chronic tonsillitis tends to happen more to young people because it's an easier operation then and because enlarged tonsils are a lot more inconvenient to a small child's throat than an adult's, but there's far, far fewer tonsilectomies now than there were thirty years ago.

Tonsillitis is related to tonsiloliths because chronic tonsil inflamation increases the number and depth of deep folds ("crypts") in the tonsils, and it's in those crypts that tonsiloliths develop.
posted by mendel at 4:45 AM on May 31, 2006

To deal with the immediate problem scrape them out of your tonsils (and the roof of your mouth near there) with your fingernail!

Fingernal + tonsils is bound to produce some irritation (and it's too much irritation for me). If you're going to try to get them out by hand then I'd recommend using your fingers to open the crypts rather than scraping the tonsiloliths out with a fingernail. Even better though is a curved dental irrigation syringe, like you'd get to keep sockets clean after wisdom tooth removal.
posted by mendel at 4:48 AM on May 31, 2006

I get these pretty regularly. I was always told it was just a side effect of not chewing food properly plus some inflammation. (I'm 22, btw, and I still get them.)

My usual treatment is to unbend a hairpin (a bobby pin) and use that to sort of guide them out. I basically stick it *in* the crypt and then wiggle it around (gently! gently!) until it gets under the stone and I can get it free. Alternately, I use my fingers to press on my tonsils just under the opening of the crypt to squeeze them out (just like a pimple).

Years of this have left me with a pretty good map of where and how my crypts are formed (I have one that's a straight TUBE, if you'd believe that). It helps that I have no gag reflex to speak of. (But if you're careful the hairpin method is pretty good at minimally distressing the tonsil tissue. Just DON'T SWALLOW while you're back there.)

Oh, and for prevention? Chew better and use mouthwash to gargle every night.
posted by fuzzbean at 5:22 AM on May 31, 2006

I've had them for as long as I can remember (I'm 20). For the most part they're not a problem, but occasionally they flare up and start agitating my throat and make me want to cough them up (which is a pain since coughing rarely does the trick, so everyone thinks I'm either choking or sick). I don't think my diet has anything to do with their occurance, as they come and go randomly, but it could be a possibility.
My father (turning 50 this year) has had them since he was young, so I'm not sure if mine will go away or not.
posted by Meagan at 5:37 AM on May 31, 2006

I'm 32 and get them when I'm sick, particularly if it is sinus related. My husband, same age, also gets them when he's fighting a cold.

Mine were definitely worse when I was in my teens. I remember having to scrape them out. Now, they're smaller and I can cough them out pretty easily.
posted by onhazier at 5:55 AM on May 31, 2006

I'm 36 and only recently started getting them (in the past year.) I have my tonsils. I get them about about once or twice per month. I get them so infrequently that I have not determined what could be causing them. I'm not phlegmy and I do not have allergies. I think it may have something to do with food, but my diet has not changed dramatically so I really have no idea.
posted by evoo at 6:37 AM on May 31, 2006

My wife (mid 30s) gets these and she uses a q-tip to work them out.
posted by Mitheral at 6:42 AM on May 31, 2006

Has anybody had their tonsils removed after the age of 20?
I had my tonsils out at 22.

Gargling with salt water or a mouthwash rinse can sometimes help dislodge them, too.
posted by gramcracker at 7:05 AM on May 31, 2006

Ah, the tonsilloliths. I had them probably starting in my mid-late teens, until I was 20 and got a 6-month case of tonsillitis that culminated with a tonsillectomy. I'm 25 now.

I miss them. Yeah, I know it's sick.
posted by penchant at 7:12 AM on May 31, 2006

Wow, I get these a couple of times a year and never thought there might be a name for them or anything. I'm 27 and have my tonsils, and I started getting them when I was 19. I usually end up with an ongoing sore throat and tonsillitis when I have them, and often go on antibiotics. I have never managed to cough or gargle one out, but I scrape and gag away. It's disgusting!
posted by katie at 7:36 AM on May 31, 2006

Thanks for this thread! From time to time I feel something weird in my throat, start coughing, and end up with a big yellow nugget of joy in my hand, and always wondered what they were. Hasn't happened in a year or two, but good to know.
posted by cellphone at 9:19 AM on May 31, 2006

I'm 30 and still get them. It totally goes in phases, though. For months I won't see a single one, then suddenly I will get a ton of them. For me they don't seem to vary based on diet or sickness - the periods where I see a lot of them are not times when I'm sick.

Like Mitheral's wife, I get after them with a q-tip.
posted by peep at 9:22 AM on May 31, 2006

Woah: Giant tonsillolith: Report of a case. Yuck.
posted by GuyZero at 9:46 AM on May 31, 2006

I'm 29, and I've had them since my mid-teens, after a bout of tonsilitis scarred my tonsils up. The doctors wanted to take my tonsils out afterwards, but I didn't ever get around to it - and considering more recent and awful experiences with non-necessary surgical procedures, I never will.

FWIW, I have never noticed that I get more tonsilloliths when I'm sick - they happen pretty randomly, depending on diet (I'm a smoker too). They do smell supremely gross. When I notice that... um, peculiar taste in my mouth, or feel a tightness, or see any evidence of them, I push them out with my (hopefully, clean) fingers.
posted by sluggo at 10:23 AM on May 31, 2006

Devileyezz, you don't have to apologize. I just found it freaky that something so odd had been asked a few times before. Odd to me, I mean, since I had my tonsils out at 3 and have no idea what these smelly balls are!
posted by iconomy at 11:32 AM on May 31, 2006

through gargling for 2 minutes with 1.5% hydrogen peroxide (also known as bleach)

Hydrogen peroxide is not also known as bleach. Do not gargle bleach. Bleach is a solution of sodium hypochlorite.

Hydrogen peroxide does bleach[verb] things. But it is not bleach[noun]. The definition of bleach[noun] is not "anything that bleaches[verb]."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:35 AM on May 31, 2006

fascinating thread. I've had these for as long as I can remember (35 now), I never knew what they were, asked my doctor / dentist about them, and he didn't know. I've tried using my fingernail to dislodge them, but it feels to sensitive.

So now I've strengthened my tongue enough where I can get it back there and kind of rock them loose, and then spit them out.

Am I being too forthright to say that I've even considered collecting them, so that when I finally meet someone with a really cool chemistry set, they could break it down and tell me what it really is?
posted by indigo4963 at 12:01 PM on May 31, 2006

posted by DrtyBlvd at 12:59 PM on May 31, 2006

Response by poster: I'm 24. And I have my tonsils.

The sad part is, I don't see them.
I don't see how you guys 'scrape' them, unless we're talking about something totally different.

Can someone guide me in discovering this treasure trove of smelly balls, please?
posted by Devileyezz at 7:49 PM on May 31, 2006

Devileyezz: sometimes, they're lodged in past where they're visible. Try gently squeezing/pressing at various places around the tonsil.

31 years old, had 'em all my life. I'm on decongestants most of the time now and the lessened post nasal drip seems to lessen their occurance.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 10:21 PM on May 31, 2006

Response by poster:

Riki, and we're talking about those balls and not some white material sticking to the tonsils, right?
posted by Devileyezz at 5:29 AM on June 1, 2006

Since "tonsil stones" were brought up here sevaral days ago, I've been thinking about them and wondering why I havn't experienced them in years.

At such times I've noticed myself expanding the back of my throat and sometimes even making a small snoring sound.

Did I learn this behavior and does it provent stones?

Or have the folds back there gotten old and flacid (as upposed to tight, taut, firm, young, lean folds) which now allows me to snork, and this snorking is just a useless mannerism.

I rarely snork. But just thinking about stones makes me want to.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 8:13 PM on June 1, 2006

This kind of sounds gross, but I have them, and I read a suggestion on a bulletin board somewhere else and it works for me--attatch a large paperclip to the end of a pencil or something with a rubber band, and use the loop part of the paperclip to kind of poke in there and coax them out. I had tried the suggestion of using one of those water-pik things to shoot the buggers out but I just ended up gagging and spraying the entire bathroom and my face with the stupid pik thingie. My special "grabber" has a place in my bathroom drawer, along with a flashlight on the counter. It completely grosses out the husband.

The things are usually pretty tiny, but once I was at the hairdressers and she had me lean back in the sink to get my hair shampooed and a big bugger somehow disloged from the back of my throat and into my mouth. I could tell this thing was big, and discreetly spit it out into a kleenex, but couldn't really get a good look at it until I left the place. It had to be at least pea-sized. Eeeww, I know.

So maybe leaning back and pretending to get your hair washed at a hairstyling place will help dislodge the things.
posted by printchick at 2:57 PM on June 7, 2006

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