In years past, if the tonsils frequently became inflamed or infected they would be removed. While this is still a course of treatment in some cases, doctors now understand that the tonsils have a much larger impact on the digestive process than was originally anticipated. The tonsils also help to fight off infections, which is why they can become covered in white spots. These spots are usually pus that has developed as white blood cells kill off bacteria or viruses infecting the tissue. A bit of home care can usually ward off these symptoms, but it is important to check with your doctor if your symptoms linger or appear severe.
Possible Causes of White Spots on Tonsils
Tonsillitis- Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils caused by an exposure to bacteria or a virus. As the tonsils begin to fight the infection they will produce white pus which will collect in white patches on the flesh. You may also experience headaches, fever or a stiff neck as you begin to develop tonsillitis.
Tonsil Stones- Tonsil stones are caused by debris becoming caught in the crevices of the tonsils. This can include bacteria, mucus, food particles or dead cells which build up over time. These particles create a breeding ground for viruses and bacteria which can increase the risk of infection. These infections can cause the particles trapped in the tonsils to grow and harden, making them hard to fight off and causing the tonsils to become inflamed or uncomfortable.
Oral Thrush- White patches on the tonsils may be a fungal infection caused by an excess amount of yeast. Yeast is frequently found throughout the body, but certain conditions can cause its population to boom to an unhealthy level. Those who are immune suppressed or those who partake in an excessively sugary diet are more likely to develop yeast infections in the mouth. In addition to the tonsils, white patches from a yeast infection can appear on the roof of the mouth, tongue and cheeks. These patches will not cause swelling, but they can alter the taste in your mouth.
Sore Throat- A strep infection is one of the most common causes of severe sore throat. This bacterial infection will frequently show itself as white spots on the tonsils and throat. You will notice pain when swallowing, or a scratchy feeling in the throat. The lymph nodes in the neck and the tonsils will become swollen as they attempt to rid the body of this infection. High fevers are also common when battling strep throat.
Mononucleosis- Commonly known as mono, this viral infection will combine common flu symptoms with fatigue, fever and headaches. Adolescents who develop this condition will frequently develop patches of puss in the throat, especially around the tonsils. Your lymph nodes will also become very swollen, and some patients may also develop a body rash.
Treatments and Preventions for White Spots on Tonsils
Minor infections of the tonsils can usually be treated with home care.
- Dislodge tonsil stone. If the white spots on the tonsils are not causing any discomfort or additional symptoms, you may have a tonsil stone. Give your body a chance to work it out and try not to irritate it further. If your tonsil stone is causing discomfort you can try to dislodge it yourself using a cotton swab or toothpick. Be careful not to stab at the tonsil tissue as this can cause damage which will increase your risk of developing an infection. Gently prod the area to try to knock the stone loose, and then spit it out.
- Gargle. When your tonsils feel scratchy or inflamed, gargling can often lessen the discomfort. Mix a glass of warm salty water, taking care not to create a mixture that is hot enough to scald your mouth. Take a mouthful of the beverage, lean your head back, open your mouth and make a "g" sound with the back of your throat, allowing the water to swish around the tonsils. Spit out the liquid and take a new mouthful for each repetition to avoid spreading the pus throughout the mouth.
- Sipping warm, caffeine free fluids throughout the day can also help bathe the throat to help clear out an infection. Teas with honey, chicken broth or warm water are frequently recommended. If the throat is swollen, ice pops, cold beverages or a cold compress on the neck can provide relief. Avoid foods like ice cream as dairy products can encourage mucus production.
- Create a comfortable atmosphere for your recovery. Avoid irritants such as cigarette smoke or perfumes that can cause the throat to become scratchy. Run a humidifier to keep the air comfortable and try to get plenty of rest so your body can focus as much of its energy as possible on fighting the infection.
- Antibiotics- If your symptoms are causing a great deal of discomfort or you are experiencing a fever, you should see a doctor to determine if antibiotics are necessary to help clear the infection. Antibiotics cannot help rid the body of a virus or fungal infections. Your doctor will take a sample of the pus on your tonsils with a cotton swab and run lab tests to determine what type of medication is appropriate.
- Tonsillectomy- If your tonsils frequently become inflamed or they swell to the point where they are causing you difficulty breathing, your doctor may advise you to have them removed. Those who have an infection that will not respond to treatment may also be candidates for a tonsillectomy. This is typically a one day surgery that will take one to two weeks to recover from. During this time the throat will be sore and you may have a restricted diet to avoid irritating the surgical area, but no extreme side effects are expected.