Tonsils are small lymphoid glands located at the back section on either side of the throat. It acts like a filter and hold back bacteria, viruses, and other germs and thus helps prevent infection. The tonsils play a role in producing antibodies. Entry of pathogens into the airways can cause infection resulting in swollen tonsils, which can cause discomfort, irritation, and swallowing problems.
Tonsillitis refers to inflammation of the tonsils which may occur due to infection by viruses or bacteria, etc., pollution, allergies, cold, irritants, flu, and dry surroundings. Children are more prone to developing tonsillitis.
When swollen tonsils occurs with white spots, then it is known as tonsil stones. It is not a serious condition but can be distressing.The white spots consist of calcium and mucus layers. Patients tend to experience sensations of something trapped at the back of the throat. These spots can be seen at the upper section of the throat and back of the mouth with the help of a flashlight. They may occasionally occur on the roof of the oral cavity.
Causes of swollen tonsils
Some of the common causes of swollen tonsils and tonsils stones are listed below:
- Swollen tonsils are primarily caused due to bacterial or viral infections. Such infection can trigger inflammation of the tonsils. Streptococcus bacterial infection causes tonsillitis in both adults and children.
- Mononucleosis is a viral illness that causes enlargement of the tonsils. It is prevalent in young adults and teens.
- Adenoid disorders and immune deficits can also cause swollen tonsils.
- Swollen tonsils with strep throat or sore throat may be accompanied by symptoms such as painful swallowing, itching inside the ear, ear aches, and a bad taste on the roof of the mouth or the back of the throat.
- Swollen tonsils that is not accompanied by sore throat may occur due to airborne or food allergies. Patients may experience speaking problems, discomfort when swallowing, and even breathing issues. Some patients may also suffer from pain in ear, ear infections, and recurrent sinus infections.
- Swollen tonsils with white spots are often caused due to bacterial infections. The tonsil surface consists of many small pockets known as tonsil crypts. They consist of soft tissues. The lining or wall of this tissue is in continuous contact with saliva present in the oral cavity. Food particles that are trapped in the crypts get broken down by saliva’s digestive enzymes.This process results in the production of starch and carb residues, which then mix with oral bacteria and mucus, harden and toughen, and finally develop into white spots of different sizes. These spots are termed as cryptic tonsils or tonsil stones.
- In addition to white spots, lumps, and yellowish patches, patients with swollen tonsils may suffer from bad breath. Such foul breath may persist even after using a mouthwash or it may come back just a few hours after brushing.The foul smell is due to sulfur compounds present in the white spots. The intensity of the odor tends to increase with an increase in the size of the white spot.
Treatment of swollen tonsils includes the following:
- Most cases of swollen tonsils occur due to bacterial infections. It is treated with antibiotics that also help alleviate inflammation. Penicillin is usually prescribed by doctors.
- Throat inflammation and pain can be eased with anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, etc. They also help decrease the swelling.
- Analgesics are prescribed for pain alleviation.
- Recurrent infections that cause chronic cases of swollen tonsils or persistent tonsillitis can be treated via a tonsillectomy, which is the surgical removal of the organs.
- White spots are harmless and often do not need any treatment. Big white spots can however be very bothersome. You may scrape off the tonsil stones by using a toothbrush and brushing them gently.You may alternatively use a medicine dropped with a curved tip to easily suck out the layers of calcium; this process can cause some pain.Another non-painful method is spraying the white spots with saline water using an empty nasal spray bottle. Repeat this process many times on a daily basis to get rid of the spots.
- Big spots may however need to be checked by a doctor. The physician will use a curette to manually remove the tonsil stones; this however offers short-term relief. For a more permanent solution, patients may go for laser surgery or a tonsillectomy.
A few home remedies for swollen tonsils are as follows:
- Resting a sore throat to find relief from irritation, discomfort, and swelling.
- Using humidifiers to facilitate breathing, reduce pain, and prevent swallowing difficulties.
- Gargling the mouth with warm saline water; or with a mixture of powder aspirin and dark colored soda; or with fenugreek and warm water solution; or with an antiseptic mouthwash.
- Drinking milk with some turmeric mixed in it; or a solution of honey, fresh lime, and water; or cucumber, carrot, or beetroot juices.
- Eating cold foods like ice cream, ice cubes, popsicles, or drinking cold water or iced tea to soothe the inflammation and ease pain.