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How to Tell the Difference Between Tonsil Stones and Tonsillitis

Tonsils were once removed through routine procedures. This is no longer the case today. Doctors no longer recommend that their colleagues remove healthy tonsils. However, researchers still agree that tonsils are among the most frustrating internal organs to deal with for most people. It may not be reasonable to perform surgery on them right away, but people who have chronic and repeated tonsillitis infections might be better off with the surgery in the long run.

Tonsils essentially trap bacteria and viruses as they enter the human throat, thus preventing them from reaching the body. The tissue of tonsils contains lymphocytes, which partly enables tonsils to do their job. However, people develop problems with their tonsils far more regularly than they do with many other parts of the body. These structures might trap bacteria and viruses sometimes, but they can just as easily become infected with the very viruses and bacteria that they are trying to trap in the first place.

It is possible that tonsils are just not equipped to deal with the levels of bacteria that people will encounter on a regular basis today. People in cities are going to deal with more bacterial infections than people in rural areas in many cases, although people in rural areas increasingly deal with them as well. Tonsils are a holdover from a different era in human history. However, the health outcomes of people who have had their tonsils removed and the health outcomes of people who have not had their tonsils removed are similar, which still raises the question of whether tonsils really are all that relevant in the modern world.

Tonsils might be considered nearly vestigial. Modern humans have much better immune systems in general than people of the past. One of the major ways evolution has changed human beings over time is through the immune function. Diseases that would have destroyed entire populations in the past will make a person mildly ill today. People’s immune systems have evolved to cope with city life, and so it is not a surprise that tonsils seem like they are from another time.

Tonsil Stones and Tonsillitis

The Mechanism behind Tonsil Stones

Tonsils have a structure that almost resembles an English muffin: full of crannies and nooks. This is where they trap the bacteria, viruses, mucus, and dead cells that can cause infections. However, it is also possible for all of this to build up in those very same nooks and crannies. All of this debris can essentially become trapped there. The debris can start to turn into these white masses. If the white masses start to harden, then tonsil stones will result.

Risk Factors for Tonsil Stones

Most of the people who get tonsil stones are going to be the people who have had tonsillitis frequently. These are people who are going to get bacteria gathering in these areas all the time, and this is going to create a situation in which they eventually develop calcified debris. People who have chronic inflammation in the tonsils will also be more likely to develop tonsil stones. People cannot get tonsil stones from others. However, chronic and continual bouts of tonsillitis can lead to tonsil stones. As such, while the tonsil stones themselves might not actually be contagious, other factors that are contagious can at least contribute to their development.

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People who don’t go to the doctors on a regular basis are more likely to develop progressive and dangerous tonsil stones. Tonsil stones can start out small and relatively harmless only to become large and dangerous later, and people who regularly get medical check-ups are less likely to have that happen to them.

Risk Factors for Tonsillitis

Unlike tonsil stones, tonsillitis is, in fact, contagious. Kissing or sharing drinks can spread tonsillitis, and people can contract the condition through the coughs and sneezes of others. People who have a lot of problems with bacterial infections on a regular basis might be more likely to develop tonsillitis as well. Anyone who has a depressed immune system is more likely to get tonsillitis. Tonsillitis is actually caused by a viral infection more often than a bacterial infection, so it cannot always be treated using antibiotics. However, there are still plenty of ways to fight off viral infections.

It should be noted that the very young tend to get tonsillitis more often than adults or older adults, which is one reason why people tend to associate tonsillitis with kids in the first place. The majority of cases occur between individuals aged six to eighteen. People under the age of eighteen tend to have weak immune systems compared to adults, since they haven’t had as much time to build up immunity in the first place.

Kids younger than six are less likely to be in school, so they will be less likely to encounter the sorts of bacteria that will cause tonsillitis in the first place. Adults are less likely to get tonsillitis as their immune systems develop, and the condition is relatively rare for people over the age of forty. However, this might be due to the fact that people from previous generations were more likely to get their tonsils removed, making the age factor hard to fully understand.

How common are Tonsil Stones and Tonsillitis?

Tonsil stones are actually relatively rare, which is one of the reasons why people might always assume that their tonsil stones are actually tonsillitis. Tonsil stones are also called tonsilloliths, and they are typically very small. The larger ones are very rare, and they are always cause for concern.

Tonsillitis is more common. Even with people have functioning immune systems, a bacterial infection in the tonsils is frustratingly common for many people. There are more than two hundred thousand cases of tonsillitis in a year, so people should certainly consider the possibility that they might have tonsillitis if they have any of the associated symptoms.

It should be noted that some tonsil stones are going to be so small that people will have a hard time with detecting them or even noticing if they have symptoms. The larger ones are going to cause the most dramatic symptoms, and people should be most aware of these if they’re going to try to address the problem.

Tonsil stones and tonsillitis can both potentially cause unpleasant symptoms, but one is typically annoying while the other can be potentially dangerous if left untreated. Tonsil stones are typically caused by excessive bacteria and other particles that collect in the crevices of the tonsils and lead to a calcified white buildup, while tonsillitis is caused by a bacterial or viral infection. It can be difficult to tell the two conditions apart because some of the symptoms are similar, including bad breath and throat pain. So, how can you tell whether you have tonsil stones or more serious tonsillitis? Here are a few differences between the two conditions.

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Tonsil Stone Symptoms

Tonsil stones may not cause any noticeable symptoms at all if they are very small. However, if they are undetected and untreated, they are likely to become larger over time and begin exhibiting some of the following symptoms:

  • Bad breath
  • Ear pain
  • Difficulty or pain while swallowing foods or liquids
  • Chronic sore throat that may be mild, moderate, or severe
  • Swelling in the tonsil area that is often visible
  • White debris or lumps located on or near the tonsils

It is important to see a doctor if you experience any of these symptoms, especially if they are interfering with your ability to eat, sleep, or live a happy and active life. Sometimes tonsil stones are treatable over the counter, but it is important to seek medical help just in case. For some individuals, the embarrassment of chronic bad breath is plenty of reason to seek treatment for tonsil stones. Once the tonsil stones are diagnosed and removed, symptoms typically disappear within one or two days after surgery.

Tonsillitis Symptoms

Many tonsillitis symptoms are similar to tonsil stone symptoms, but there are a few differences that indicate a more serious condition than tonsil stones. Common indications of tonsillitis include:

  • Chronic bad breath
  • Frequent headaches
  • Fever or chills
  • Body aches
  • Pain and difficulty swallowing
  • Sore and painful eyes
  • Stiff neck
  • Swollen and red tonsils
  • White, gooey substance that covers the tonsils

If you experience some or all of these symptoms, it is important to seek prompt treatment. Tonsillitis is typically treated with penicillin and symptoms should subside within a few days of treatment.

Common Causes

While tonsillitis is most often caused by a bacterial infection, there are a variety of factors that can contribute to the development of tonsil stones, including:

  • Excessive stress
  • Post-nasal drip
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Allergies

Some individuals may simply be more prone to tonsil stones than others, but they can take comfort in knowing that most tonsil stones can be quite easily removed, and some may not require any treatment at all if they do not cause noticeable symptoms.

Is the Condition Contagious?

Because tonsillitis is often caused by a bacterial infection, it is usually contagious. Because of this, individuals who have the condition should try to stay away from others until they are taking antibiotic treatments. Tonsil stones, on the other hand, are not contagious and cannot be contracted from an infected person.

If you are currently suffering from the symptoms of severe tonsil stones or tonsillitis, be sure to seek professional treatment in order to alleviate your symptoms.

Treating Tonsil Stones

The size of the tonsil stones will more or less determine the treatment regimens. In some cases, the stones will be small enough that people can wait for them to go away on their own. However, people should never assume that this is the case, and they should always talk to their doctors first in order to make sure that they are able to treat their tonsil stones correctly.

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There are people who can actually remove tonsil stones manually if they are small enough. This is the sort of thing that should be done by a doctor, since people might end up harming themselves with the cotton swabs that they are going to use at home. However, it is still possible for people to do this at home if they are unable to go to the doctor’s.

Gargling with salt water can at least help to alleviate some of the symptoms associated with tonsil stones, and this is going to help when it comes to tonsillitis as well. The difference between tonsil stones and tonsillitis will not always lie with the treatment method. Some people will also use antibiotics in order to treat the tonsil stones, and this can cause them to shrink in some cases.

However, the very largest tonsil stones are going to need to be surgically removed altogether, and this is going to give people what they need in order to truly move forward in some cases. This is typically only an option that doctors will use for the very largest and most aggressive tonsil stones. There are always going to be risks associated with surgeries, even surgeries that are relatively minor. Still, tonsil stones that are untreated are going to be so large and so potentially dangerous that it is going to be imperative for doctors to sometimes use the more aggressive methods in order to get rid of them before they can cause patients any real damage.

Treating Tonsillitis

Some people are going to need antipyretic analgesics in order to treat their tonsillitis. Tonsillitis that is caused by a bacterial infection can be fought with ordinary antibiotics. People who are constantly getting tonsillitis, especially children, might ultimately be treated for the condition through the use of surgery. Having one’s tonsils removed may be less common today, since tonsils do protect the upper airway, but the cost and benefit analysis can change in the people who are constantly getting infected tonsils.

Prevention is still often the best strategy of dealing with both tonsil stones and tonsillitis, although the people who get these kinds of infections all the time might have a hard time with this sort of thing unless they really change the underlying situation and the anatomy involved through surgery.

Kingsley Felix

Webmaster & Editor of Healthable.......

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