I'm about to gag just writing this question!
January 3, 2008 1:06 PM   Subscribe

I have tonsil stones, I’m pretty sure. However, I also have a very strong gag reflex and can’t get them out. Help!

I know they’re there. I can feel things in my throat when I swallow. I tried poking around in my throat this morning and was able to see part of a little white blob… but I started gagging/coughing and I’m pretty sure the bugger just went right back in. I can’t reach my tonsils with my tongue, and all attempts to stick my finger in my throat have resulted in gagging, and anyone within earshot convinced that I’m horking up parts of lung or esophagus or something. I haven’t dared to use a foreign object to try and fish them out, since I imagine that would make my gagging worse. I once tried to flush my tonsils out with a waterpik, which just resulted in more gagging and puddles of water all over the bathroom.

I’ve read the previous tonsilolith-related questions on Ask MeFi, as well as some other sites, and most of the comments have been to the effect of “oh yeah, I just reach in and pop the suckers right out.” Oh, if only.

Is there any way to remove these things without triggering my gag reflex? Does gargling work?

Alternately, how do I go about overcoming my gag reflex and is it wise to do so?
posted by Metroid Baby to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I had a strong gag reflex too, and what I found that worked was to use a toothbrush with a few longer angled bristles at the tip to gently tease them out.

But I ended up just getting the damned things ripped out this summer because they kept getting infected.
posted by SpecialK at 1:08 PM on January 3, 2008

i say let yourself barf. drink some water on an empty stomach (maybe when you wake up) and go for it. so you barf some water in the sink, big deal. put on a loud CD if you need noise privacy, and use listerine or have a tasty cola afterwards as a treat to get rid of the barf memories.
posted by twistofrhyme at 1:09 PM on January 3, 2008

I use an eye dropper filled with hydrogen peroxide to flush them out. Yeah, there's a little gagging, but I find that method works a lot better than fingers or toothbrushes.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:14 PM on January 3, 2008

If you aren't interested in incrementally overcoming your gag reflex, you might want to forget about your tonsilolith mining career from here on out.

You can try to gargle with a saline solution or hydrogen peroxide after eating/smoking/etc and see if that helps, it might be that preventative maintenance is right up your alley.

Other than that I could only think of a waterpik or eyedropper like MrMoonPie suggests, but you will still have to deal with residual "splash damage" sensations in the general vicinity.
posted by prostyle at 1:21 PM on January 3, 2008

I've always used a q-tip, and instead of trying to "fish" it out, pressing on the area just above or below, and it's usually just popped out.
posted by TuxHeDoh at 1:28 PM on January 3, 2008

I've heard that the gag reflex is weaker in the morning. I have no idea if it's true or not.

To train yourself not to gag, find the point at which you start to do it. Gently insert your fingers/toothbrush or whatever towards the back of your mouth, until you feel yourself start to gag. When you feel the reflex kick in, relax. Tell yourself it's OK, and that you can stop whenever you want.

It takes a while to learn how to do it, but I successfully weakened my gag reflex.
posted by Solomon at 1:30 PM on January 3, 2008

Response by poster: One more thing that I forgot to ask: is there any consequence to just leaving them alone? (Besides potential death-breath.) I'd rather get rid of these things, but if I can't I want to be sure I won't die of tonsil-related complications. I'd rather not see a doctor unless it's necessary.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:30 PM on January 3, 2008

A well directed, surgical stab with a toothpick shouldn't excite the gag reflex. Then you can collect them, and sell them on eBay.
posted by xmutex at 1:38 PM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Is one really supposed to perform this by themselves? No one has mentioned a doctor, sooo....?
posted by tcv at 1:49 PM on January 3, 2008

Best answer: If you leave them alone, they'll pop out on their own sooner or later.

Gargling with saline does help in my case.
posted by kaarne at 2:13 PM on January 3, 2008

Sometimes I can get them out by doing a hard, protracted swallowing motion. If you can get the suction in the half-swallow, then they come right out and get deposited on the middle of your tongue for easy spitting out.
Even if you can't get the half swallow trick and just do a lot of real swallowing, I bet it will pop out and get sucked down your throat when it is "ripe."
posted by rmless at 2:36 PM on January 3, 2008

They do come out on their own eventually, but in my experience, there are usually plenty of pieces left in the crypts. I have found that continually removing them has lessened my gag reflex quite a lot, not that that's good news for you starting out :)

My favorite removal tools are the handle of an eyeliner brush (very long, thin, and not too pointy) and q-tips. q-tips tend to bend a little when it really counts, so I use the brush handle to work the stones up to the opening and use the q-tip to mop it away if it didn't stick to the brush.

To see properly, I hold a tiny Maglite flashlight and a toothbrush handle on my tongue to light the area and keep it out of the way. This works brilliantly.
posted by odi.et.amo at 3:22 PM on January 3, 2008

I've had good luck with dental probes.
posted by fengshui at 4:23 PM on January 3, 2008

Keeping my mouth around my finger (or a smallish tool) helps immensely to keep me from gagging...of course then you have to do everything by touch, but hey, if it works...
posted by anaelith at 4:37 PM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I find I gag most if I use my fingertip, plus that method scrapes my tonsils and leaves them sore. A q-tip is generally gentler and less likely to provoke the gag reflex. A flashlight also helps - if you can see the stones clearly you'll poke more accurately with the cotton swab.

They do go away on their own, but mine usually hang around for weeks so I always eventually go in, even though I hate doing it. Gargling with salt water might speed things along if you find you can't bear the gagging.
posted by katie at 4:56 PM on January 3, 2008

oh, i had some of those when i had tonsillitis. i used a q-tip to get them out. it was sort of gross but oddly satisfying. anyway. it might help to use a flashlight to get a better view--that way you are not just randomly stabbing away at the back of your throat and causing needless gags.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:21 PM on January 3, 2008

I started getting these after I had tonsilitis, too. I also have a strong gag reflex. I used sharp eyebrow tweezers to grab them out, being very carful to open my mouth as wide as possible and not let the tweezers touch anything but the tonsil stones. Not touching anything else is the key to not gagging, then pulling them out quickly once you get the tweezers in there. (And happily, after a few years I stopped getting them, I'm not sure why though. And this is definitely one of my grossest answers :)
posted by catatethebird at 8:33 PM on January 3, 2008

Response by poster: Following up in case anyone's still reading this :) ...I gargled morning and night with warm salt water for a couple days, and my throat feels pretty clear now. Must have worked.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:09 PM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

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