February 21st, 2011
08:39 AM ET

What are those white lumps in my tonsils?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Mondays, it's pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Shu.

Asked by Christy, Iowa

I sometimes get little white lumps in my tonsils. What's the best way to get them out?

Expert answer

Thanks for your question. It sounds like you're describing tonsillar stones (also called tonsilloliths), which are clumps of food particles, mucus, dead tissue cells and more that can collect in the crypts found on the surface of the tonsils. They may occur when you're perfectly healthy or during respiratory infections or eating certain foods that get caught in the pits of one's tonsils.

If you leave the tonsil stones alone, they may come out on their own while gargling or coughing. This may be more likely to occur when you first wake up in the morning, after they have dried up a bit and become smaller than the pits where they were lodged.

I consulted with Dr. Mark Brown, an Austin, Texas, physician who is board certified in otolaryngology, facial plastic and reconstructive surgery, and sleep medicine for more information. Brown reports that tonsillar stones are more annoying than worrisome, although they are occasionally associated with sore throats and bad breath. In extreme cases, some people may have their tonsils removed to prevent the stones from recurring.

Removing the stones through gargling or carefully using a long, thin and clean object may take care of the problem temporarily, but the stones may form again. There are also a number of stone removal "kits" available that you may wish to try. Laser treatment to smooth the surface of the tonsils may also be an option you can discuss with your physician if you find the stones to be especially bothersome.

Good luck!

soundoff (51 Responses)
  1. john1216

    please go to an ENT and have them looked at and Biopsied
    yes I did say that
    I had white bump on my tonsil and it was HPV 16 cancer
    doing well now but no JOKE

    February 21, 2011 at 08:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Greys

      I randomly started getting them about 2 years ago, I tried everything to get rid of them. I switched to vegetarian about a yaer ago and I never got one again!

      April 12, 2014 at 22:19 | Report abuse |
  2. HA

    I have this same problem. Nasty smelling whitle lumps resembling cauliflower. When they first appeared, I went to TWO different ENT who told me I was crazy and there was nothing there. I told family members who told me I was crazy. Finally I got so annoyed with ppl calling me nuts that after I got two out, I brought them first to my mother, who had told me I was being silly and there is no such thing as a tonsil stone, and then dropped the bag off at the 2nd ENT, who had said I had sore throat and nothing more. Now, after 8 years of dealing with it, I just use a cuticle pusher to get them out. They are highly annoying, and I can feel them. Nothing has worked to stop the problem from occuring.

    February 21, 2011 at 09:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • schuy

      I used to have these all the time as well with no end in sight. It was bad enough that my doctor had suggested having my tonsils removed. I decided to wait a little while. For other reasons I decided to go vegetarian and have been for about 10 years now. Ever since I quit eating meat I have never had another one of these stones in my tonsils. Coincidence? Perhaps. But hey, it might work for others too.

      February 21, 2011 at 11:01 | Report abuse |
    • Debbie

      The ENT told me to try a water pick

      February 21, 2011 at 11:23 | Report abuse |
    • Jonathan

      I can sympathize with you. My wife had them about 15 years ago and had laser surgery and then had the tonsils removed after the laser didn't work. They can be extremely annoying and hard to prove, because they can be like the rattle in your car that stops when you get to the mechanic, you can lose them in your sleep, swallow them inadvertently while eating, or spit them out while gargling.

      As a Family Physician, I see folks with them all the time and I recommend, for those without a powerful gag reflex, using a smooth tongue depressor or the clean rounded end of a toothbrush to remove them. I wish you luck, they aren't usually dangerous, but very annoying!

      February 21, 2011 at 14:41 | Report abuse |
  3. Jennifer

    I had this problem 20 years ago. Initially I did "pop" out the stones using a clean object, but I got tired of doing this *and* battling sore throats, so I eventually had my tonsils out. It's important to know that these are stones that build up in the normal crevices in the tonsils themselves and are easily popped out, not an actual lump *on* the tonsil. As John1216 says, if it's a lump *on* the tonsil, see a doctor right away.

    February 21, 2011 at 09:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Marie365

    I find that I can press them out by rubbing a finger along the inner check behind them. I then gargle with a good mouthwash. Does not stop them from re-accuring but definitely helps with the breath.

    February 21, 2011 at 09:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Dott

    I have always wondered what these were. I had the sore throat frequently when younger but as I aged that was no problem. Having never had the tonsils removed, they have decreased in size until they are almost non existent but I still occasionally have a small lump to dislodge. So glad to know what they are and they are nothing to worry about.

    February 21, 2011 at 09:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Debbie

    I've had these for years and never knew what they were and no doctor I consulted knew what they were. My left throat gland and neck gland is swollen and I have a consistent sore throat....Seeing an ENT this week......Glad I saw this article.

    February 21, 2011 at 10:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • teresa, ohio

      hey, Debbie: I'm not a doc ( dont even play one online anymore) BUT.... I notice sometimes my glands will get swollen and then it occurs to me to check for the clumps and remove them. I think in your case, swollen gland AND sore throat AND the clumps, you are correct to go check in with a doctor. good luck.

      February 21, 2011 at 10:30 | Report abuse |
  7. lia2512

    It's amazing how every time there is any article on the Internet about tonsil stones, many people write in to say, "Every doctor I have been to doesn't know what they are. They all look at me like I am crazy." It's such a common thing, and many doctors aren't aware of them! They make some people's life hell, if they cause really bad breath. It's nice to see a doctor acknowledge their existence.

    February 21, 2011 at 10:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. teresa, ohio

    I've had these since I was 12.... I'm pushing 50 now, so I guess they dont kill you. As for the nice clean object.... I wash my hands and just press around the perimeter of the clump and it pops out. I notice if you eat within a few hours of going to bed, they form more frequently.

    I am not surprised at the ENT dr.s poo-poing these peoples concerns. It's easier to act like the patient is crazy than to spend time curing it. Imagine how good my MD must have been 40 yrs. ago to correctly diagnos my clumps and show me, a 12 yr. old, how to get rid of them... lol

    February 21, 2011 at 10:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Sam

    I had this problem a lot growing up. I had abnormally huge tonsils and was constantly poking these stones out of my tonsils...usually with a straw ( i know not smart). I eventually had my tonsils removed when I was 19. I'm so glad they are gone...I'm not constantly sick anymore.

    February 21, 2011 at 10:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. angelad496

    Good to know I'm not crazy. My doc saw them and told me more or less what they were and not to worry unless they become infected or whatever. Of course my tonsils are the size of VW's Bugs in my throat (almost had them removed once) but really they don't cause me issues on a regular basis. Nevertheless those white clumps are gross when they happen and leave an awful smell/taste that I get SO tired of. Breath mints and gum help. So does a long, skinny CLEAN cake tester LOL

    February 21, 2011 at 10:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. DMan

    I just had my tonsils removed because of chronic tonsil stones. Turns out they harbored a fungal infection which made them swollen and extremely uncomfortable. Definitely seek out an ENT for consult.

    February 21, 2011 at 10:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Chris

    Use a Q-tip to express them from your tonsils. They do come back after a period of time.

    February 21, 2011 at 11:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Denni

    Noone I've talked to face to face knew what the white lumps in my tonsils were. Even my doctor relatives told me to just leave them alone. One of them did help me when I showed here what I'd just popped out of my tonsil, but when I talked to all my doctor relatives collectively, they just all said the lumps were probably formed because of my poking around. Even after I showed them the scientific journal articles I found about the lumps, they just said I shouldn't self-diagnose. Well, what other choice did I have? I've had these nasty little suckers since I started working at a call center. I got laryngopharyngitis several times in a row then started forming these things. Maybe the holes in my tonsils got bigger during that period. I dunno but I do know I never had them before then.

    February 21, 2011 at 11:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Allison

      I had these all the time. Nobody else seemed to. I finally decided to get my tonsils out. I am SO glad I did. The dr. said that my tonsils had so many large pockets, from being sick, that was why they were easy to collect. That is one thing I am glad to be rid of.

      February 21, 2011 at 12:15 | Report abuse |
  14. d.barlow m.d.

    gargle and spit them out o not probe w anything.. i you hit a blood vessel you will be dealing w an emergency..thought about doing this as a resident and was sternly warned not to.... rinse and gargle please....

    February 21, 2011 at 11:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Ruth

    I only get them when I have a sore throat. Maybe they cause the sore throat. When I remove them the sore throat goes away.

    February 21, 2011 at 11:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Robin

    I had this exact thing! I had them for years and became an expert at popping them out with a q-tip. You'll know they're tonsil stones if they smell like death! They're horrible and gross and in the end I had my tonsils out. I know most people say that is extreme and higher risk for adults.. but for me it was worth it. The bad breath alone was worth it. The surgery was covered by my insurance and had a 2 week complete recovery. I am soo glad I did it because it'll be behind you forever. However bad you think you have tonsil stones I bet they're 10x worse inbetwen crevices and behind them that you'll never see but could get infected/cause other common sicknesses.

    February 21, 2011 at 11:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Female (37 years)

    I am not a doctor...but this is how I solved the probem after 36 years......I used to have these (off and on) since I was a teenager. I was told that the reason was due to scarring from strep throat as a child. In addition to the white lumps, my tonsils were also always enlarged such that they almost touched. I was told the reason for the enlarged tonsils was due to allergies....since I had no runny nose or itchy eyes I was not convinced that I had any allergies. Anyway... I begged doctors to remove my tonsils.....(I saw three) and each stongly discouraged this as not being worth the risk. Long story short....last year we discovered that my son had an egg allergy, his symptoms were mostly respiratory (runny nose, fluid in the ears resulting in ear tubes, wheezing)...he was 4 at the time and had these symptoms off and on since he was 9 months old (about the same time he started eating). His allergist is convinced that the egg allergy caused all these symptoms. She also claimed that I had an egg allergy (apparently its hereditary). I scoffed at this....but after one year of an egg free diet, I am a believer. My tonsils are white lump-free and are no longer enlarged. I also do not get "colds" as frequently....no more sore throats either. So my point is...if you have these white lumps perhaps you have an allergy of some sort. I had no idea I had an egg allergy until I was 36 years old.....hope this helps someone.

    February 21, 2011 at 11:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Telegraph

    Let's consider the following cronology:

    1. You never had them or heard of them before. Ever. No symptoms – just nice smooth surfaced tonsils.

    2. Then you had your first 'encounter' with something or someone else that harbored a certain type of abnormally folded protein – an amyloidosis. In most cases, at or near the time you 'left home'.

    3. You ate something like a dry tortilla chip that 'scratched' the side of your tonsils around the same time you were in close contact with # 2 above.

    4. You had a high fever, chills and felt weak starting about 3 days afterwords and lasting for about 2 weeks.

    5. You felt something sore on your tonsil at the scratch site and looked in the mirror and found a white patch on the outer surface, the site of the new battle.

    6. This battle dug deeper and ate into the tonsil over years of progressive development – a cycle of repeated healing and injury and inflammation – until you had several burroughs inside the tonsil.

    7. Then these tonsil stones began to appear more and more frequently, evidence of a losing battle at the sites of the deepest tunnels.

    8. The ambition of these tunnelers extends deeper and deeper until it ends with a breach of the brain decades later and then progresses to stage #7 Alzheimers.

    9. And NO, doctor's are unaware of the subtleties of how your body is not equipped with the tools it needs to deal with this pathogen effectively enough.

    February 21, 2011 at 11:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Chuck

    I get a couple of these each & every week. I wrestle 'em out with my tongue.
    Note: When I recently did a no-carb diet, I had no incidence! (There's a lesson there, someplace.)

    February 21, 2011 at 11:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Andrew

    I get these on occasion. Never really had any negative side effects. They usually come out on there own and I will taste something god awful and spit it out. Sometimes ill pop them out with my finger and mouth wash. Ive never had any sickness resulting from tonsil stones and im sorry for anyone who gets ill from these little nasty buggers.

    February 21, 2011 at 12:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Amy

    I dealt with this in my early twenties and doctors did seem clueless about it at first. Very disgusting issue to deal with, so I had my tonsils out at 25. Caution though.... I've had two children naturally and the tonsilectomy at 25 was more painful. I still think it was worth it, but if you're older you may want to weigh the benefits.

    February 21, 2011 at 12:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Telegraph

    It seems theoretically possible that aquired metabolic disease which would then forever become inheritable ("inborn errors of metabolism") within the tribe might be why ancient grandmothers strongly discouraged dating outside the village. Very soon, because of ongoing genetic mapping, our concepts of aging, mortality and contagious diseases are about to be tipped over.

    February 21, 2011 at 12:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Jill

    I've had these since i was around 10 yrs old. my dad is a pediatrician and he had no idea what they were. finally, when i was in my 40's i saw an article in Scientific America about it and showed it to my dad! I also went on a low/no carb dieat (South Beach) and the "stones" went away. i notice they disappear when i am eating low carb.

    February 21, 2011 at 12:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Telegraph

    Diets might affect symptoms but won't make the tunnels a.k.a. "tonsil crypts" disappear. Your body should have closed these wounds in the first few weeks after the first sign of infection but instead, years later, they just keep progressing into deeper rifts on their way to your brain. Carbs are usually processed foods, broken down into fine granules and reach the infection sites more easily, causing more symptoms, inflammation and allergic response as well. Its a mechanical anomaly. You're not witnessing a diet cure, you've just learned some tricks regarding the mechanics of how different types of food can navigate and skip past your ongoing injury site(s) preventing allergic / immune response.

    February 21, 2011 at 13:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. dave_1_

    I I agree with Female (37 years) who thought the stones were caused by an egg allergy. I have not had a stone since I stopped eating dairy products. Dairy gives me nasal congestion.

    February 21, 2011 at 13:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Female (37 years)

      Thanks for the comment! I was hoping that someone else had seen the same connection between allergies (perhaps just food allergies) and these white lumps. I hope all those who are looking at the surgery option rule out food allergies first. I want to emphasize that I was convinced I had no food allergies because the symptoms were so mild.

      February 21, 2011 at 14:55 | Report abuse |
  26. Meg

    My daughter had these lumps often as a teenager. Our doctor referred to them (comically) as "throat cheese". They usually accompanied strep for her and once the strep was cleared up, they would be gone.

    February 21, 2011 at 15:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Throat Balls

    Just reach back there and pop it out like a pimple. After enough practice, you will stop gagging. It's fun to squeeze then smell them. They're weird.

    February 21, 2011 at 15:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • kso


      February 21, 2011 at 16:10 | Report abuse |
    • LMFAO

      You are just saying what any of us who have had them are thinking! LMFAO!

      February 21, 2011 at 18:29 | Report abuse |
  28. Jill

    telegraph...what the heck are you talking about? the caves are closed pockets where the food/yuck gets lodged. are you a mad scientist or what?

    February 21, 2011 at 15:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. AngelaD

    Also they are hereditary. My mom had them, my uncle had them, I had them and now my daughter has them. Mine and my mother's tonsils were taken out when we were younger because the doctors thought they were chronic strep throat. My daughter still has her tonsils. The stones come and go. She let's me "operate" them out but I hope she will get less the older she gets. I don't know if they are a reason the remove her tonsils.

    February 21, 2011 at 16:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Sean

    You won't believe me but cut back on how much dairy you have and they will go away or at least not come back as frequently. I have had this problem for a long time and this suggestion really helped.

    February 21, 2011 at 17:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Cutiepie

    I had these in my early 20s. I used a straightened hair pin to dig them out, and I used to get them out by the handful. Yuck! None of my doctors knew what they were, but what was apparently happening was that the very large tonsils I had in my youth were shrinking, thereby forcing out all the stones. Over a period of a few years my tonsils shrank down to a very small size and now I don't get stones.

    February 21, 2011 at 18:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. RN JEN

    I've had these nasty tonsil balls ever since age 12. At age 33 I finally discovered there was a name for the condition ("cryptic tonsilitis") and that it wasnt just a "normal" thing that everybody has. I never had a problem with recurrent sore throat tonsilitis, but I'm sure the harboring bacteria in the back of my throat contributed to occasional ENT & sinus illnesses. As I aged it seemed that the tonsil crypts kept getting deeper, with larger & more frequent tonsil balls, and thus the associated halitosis kept getting worse. The mental picture of the back of my throat harboring clumps of rotting food particles & noxious bacteria, combined with the constant offensive halitosis, was too gross for me to handle anymore after two long decades. I finally opted for a total tonsilectomy 4 1/2 years ago, at the age of 34. Although the 2-week recovery period was pure hell (felt like swallowing crushed glass with every swallow and was far worse than childbirth pain)... I am SO glad I had them removed!! Oral hygiene is especially important to me, and I was fighting a losing battle with the cryptic tonsilitis. Now I have far more confidence & self-esteem as a result of the fresh breath, and I also seem to be healthier with less ENT & sinus illnesses.

    February 21, 2011 at 19:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Jay

    I'm 41 and have had them for 20 years. I press on my tonsils with a Q-tip each morning and clear them out. Since I clear them at least once a day they no longer develop into stones. In fact it's more of just a mucous discharge about the size of about 1/4 of the Q-tip head. Last time iI visited my doctor he asked if I had any congestion or pain in my ears or face. I said "no". He said he saw no signs of an actual infection. I am a late night snakcer and I go pretty heavy on the dairy (I'm a Wisconsin Cheesehead). I think I will try to change my diet and see if there are any changes.

    February 21, 2011 at 21:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. RaleighNC

    I had tonsil stones. So gross. My breath was awful. I was always so embarrassed about my bad breath. I saw a fabulous ENT. He knew what they were right away. He removed my tonsils. Problem solved. I will say that prior to having my tonsils out, I had given birth (naturally, no drugs) to two children. I would have done that like daily to avoid the terrible pain after the tonsillectomy. Holy cow! The first day or two, no big deal. The following week...ugh. Look out, if you decide to go that route!

    February 21, 2011 at 22:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Geogirl

      I had my tonsils out at 32 and I am in agreement with you–the recovery isndefinitely worse than natural childbirth with tearing consequences!

      After my tonsillectomy the doctor said my tonsils were infected and worse than most. I had the tonsithes for about 20 years. No other doctor would touch it. I finally found an old school doctor who said I had acute chronic tonsillitis.

      Haven't had a problem with sore throats since. Although the recovery was a nightmare for me, it was definitely worth having them out in the long run,

      February 22, 2011 at 09:39 | Report abuse |
  35. DVD

    I have had these as a recurring problem my whole life. They aren't threatening or any kind of health hazard and are certainly not worth the pain and agony of having your tonsils removed. We have our tonsils for a reason - to act as the first line of defense against ingested or inhaled foreign pathogens, so they are kind of important.

    The simple way to remove them? Get a head from a waterpick flosser or a simple dental syringe (or both and use them togegther) and make a 50/50 combination of mouthwash and water. Then just use the waterpik head to insert into the tonsil and gently flush the stone out. Works every time and it also helps keep your mouth/throat clean and breath fresh.

    This beats the heck out of tonsil removal, trust me.

    April 5, 2011 at 13:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. shelliesager

    I have had them for a long time too, and they're disgusting. Just saw an ENT who said my tonsils could come out if I wanted to go that route. I don't understand how you clean them out. I don't think I've ever felt them in my tonsils, they just flush out when I cough or with no notice at all. I'm reading all these posts, but I don't think I could begin to try to get them on my own – how the heck can you tell what you are doing? I hate them. And they're getting larger! Maybe time to get the tonsils removed.

    August 26, 2012 at 08:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. AKA

    Im 20, I have been experincing the same problem.. But when it fist occured my tonsils were SO swollen, I could barely swallow & could NOT see the back of my throat.. i thought maybe it was just a sore throat..I smoke cigarettes, and at the time when they were swollen I would try to smoke one and it would just hurt.. every since Ive been scared of the worse, because they would apear and go away; they're back.. I have no isurance so I have no clue what to do.. I was disowned by my mother and step father at a very, very young age and removed from his insurance.. What can I do to get this treated, what steps, or route can I go.. please, advice, anyone...doctors??

    October 19, 2012 at 07:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. mainiac

    Thanks so much for everyone who posted here. I am 48 and have always had very large tonsils although I almost never ever get sick. Getting rid of these cottage cheesy cauliflowerish blobs is becoming an obsession with me. As we all know, they smell horrendous when you take them out and I can only imagine that my breath must not be too pleasant in spite of the fact I am meticulous about brushing and flossing. Using two qtips is in my opinion the safest way to get rid of these. I place one on each side of the white blob and squeeze like it was a pimple. I am wondering if those of us with huge tonsils actually have tonsils full of these masses and that is why they are so big. My tonsils have not gotten smaller as I have aged, but I do think they may be a part of the reason I do not get colds more than once every ten years or so. Does anyone think that having all that gunk inside our tonsils could give us post nasal drip and lead to coughing spells now and then?

    February 17, 2013 at 23:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Sophia Williams

    So that's what it is. I've had those white lumps since I was 8 and have experienced coughing them every now and then. Al-thought it doesn't happen often unlike when I was 8 up to age 9, but I still worry if I need to do something about it or have a dentist check on it. If I leave it alone, will it result to further dismay in the future?

    May 7, 2014 at 03:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. スーパーコピー ウブロ 代引き

    経営方針: 品質を重視、納期も厳守、信用第一は当社の方針です。
    ┏┓┏━┓  ★★★絶対価値ありで~す

    September 27, 2018 at 06:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. mackage jackets

    What are those white lumps in my tonsils? – The Chart – CNN.com Blogs
    mackage jackets http://www.mackageca.com/mackage-women-c-2/

    December 8, 2019 at 22:03 | Report abuse | Reply

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.