Some people have bad breath even when they practice good oral hygiene and have no dental or sinus problem. This symptom is often accompanied by whitish chunks of debris in the tonsils, which is sometimes painful but come and go repeatedly. Though it can be annoying, this condition is harmless and common among young adults.
In most cases, these white things in your throat are actually tonsilloliths, or tonsil stones where bacteria and other debris may be trapped, causing a foul odor in the mouth or throat.
Causes and Symptoms
Tonsilloliths are tonsil stones that occur in about 10% of the population. Although harmless, they may become big enough to be seen as white chunks in the throat or tonsils, and cause such troubling symptoms as:
- Bad breath
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Sore throat
- Swelling of the tonsils
The whitish lumps may sometimes be dislodged and these symptoms may come and go. They may feel like small balls when swallowing and some people are disgusted by their foul smell. Some people cough them out while others try to pick them out with their fingers or with a swab. However, they usually come back, even when you gargle and practice good oral hygiene.
Tonsilloliths are associated with repeated episodes of tonsillitis or chronic inflammation of the tonsils, although their real cause is unknown. Tonsillitis is the inflammation of the tonsils that often results from a viral or bacterial infection. It is common among children aged 3-7, but it sometimes occurs repeatedly until they are older.
Tonsilloliths may form in the small crevices on the surface of the tonsils where bacteria and other debris may collect and produce a foul odor. They calcify and harden, forming "stones" that may become quite large. Many people have them as young adults and the condition persists into adulthood.
Aside from tonsil stones, white things found in your throat may also be caused by:
- Post nasal drip - due to chronic sinusitis, which produces a thick, whitish to yellowish mucus at the back of the throat, also producing bad breath and cough usually in the morning.
- Peritonsillar abscess - a condition that results from an untreated or partially treated acute tonsillitis, resulting in the collection of pus in one tonsil, sore throat, fever, and neck pain.
- Thrush - a fungal infection of the mouth that may include the throat and tonsils. You can see cheesy white deposits all over the tongue, inner cheeks, gums, and tonsils that can cause pain and temporary loss of your sense of taste.
Useful Ways to Remove These White Things in Throat
While tonsil stones are harmless but cause many annoying and embarrassing symptoms. Many people wonder what can be done about them. They are treated depending on their size and potential to produce symptoms.
- Small tonsil stones may be left untreated, since they pose no serious danger.
- Some people prefer to remove them at home by themselves, using a toothpick or long cotton swabs (Q-tips).
- You can try gargling with warm salt water to help relieve the discomforts of tonsillitis, which often accompany tonsil stones.
- You may take antibiotics for the tonsillitis and for the bacteria in the tonsilloliths, although these will not remove the tonsil stones.
- Tonsil stones may even be removed surgically if they are large enough to cause harmful symptoms, such as difficulty swallowing and earaches. This simple procedure can be performed under local anesthesia.
- Some doctors might recommend removal of the tonsils if chronic inflammation is a problem. This will completely eliminate the formation of tonsil stones.
If the white things in your throat are not tonsilloliths, they may be due to other infections such as Peritonsillar abscess, thrush, or chronic sinusitis. You may need to seek medical advice and antibiotic treatment for these conditions.
Experiences from Other Patients
Here are some people's experiences with white lumps in their throat:
- My oldest son has these small white balls at the back of his throat that have an awful smell. He is very stubborn about going to the doctor. He keeps picking them out using a toothpick, but they always come back.
- I used to get white things all the time and they kept my tonsils infected. I had to take them out each morning with a long Q-tip with iodine; otherwise, I could not eat or talk the whole day. After taking some antibiotics and gargling everyday with salty water, my doctor just decided to remove them. That was 15 years ago and I have not experienced any problems ever since.
- I have been trying to discover what these things are, and recently found some information. The bacteria grow on the tonsils due to some dead tissue accumulating in the crevices of the tonsils. The best option is to gargle frequently with salt water to kill bacteria, although it is not a permanent cure. I have seen someone use a q-tip to take one off. I tried to do it, but ended up getting tender tonsils. I heard that a permanent solution to this problem is having the tonsils removed.
- I have had these white things in my throat for many years. They come out of my throat into my mouth at inconvenient times! My doctor looked at my throat and said it's probably just mucus. I knew that was not right because of the smell and texture of the white lumps. To stop it I started pushing and spitting them out after brushing my teeth every night.
Although these white things in the throat make you feel uneasy, they are not dangerous to your health. To relieve bad breath it is a good practice to gargle with salt water, which can help clean out bacteria. You can also easily dislodge them from your throat with a cotton swab (not a toothpick that can hurt), or just wait for them to detach by themselves. Otherwise, if the tonsil stones become too big you may want to consult your doctor to have them removed.