What Are Those Smelly White Clumps You Keep Coughing Up?

Are you coughing up little white or cream-colored clumps or balls with a putrid smell and a somewhat hardened texture? Chances are, what you're dealing with is tonsil stones -- also known as toniloliths. They're essentially little bits of food, bacteria, and mucous that get stuck in your tonsil, putrefy, and then become dislodged when you cough. Sounds gross, right? Tonsil stones can leave you self-conscious and with terrible breath, so it's important to do something about them. Here's a closer look at some remedies and treatments to consider.

Mouthwash and Salt Water

If you've never dealt with tonsil stones before, it may be that a recent cold or flu has caused your tonsils to swell, allowing them to form. They might be a temporary occurrence, and all you need to worry about is getting rid of them in the short-term. When this is the case, gargling with antiseptic mouthwash or saltwater will help. Both substances help kill bacteria that contribute to tonsil stone formation while also causing the tissues to contract. This contraction may help expel any lingering tonsil stones and then keep the crypts (the "holes" in your tonsils) closed so that additional stones don't form. Gargle two or three times per day for best results.

Laser Surgery

If your issues with tonsil stones are ongoing, or if mouthwash and saltwater don't seem to help, you can see your ear, nose, and throat doctor to inquire about laser surgery. A special laser device will be used to seal the crypts of your tonsils so that additional stones cannot form inside them. Laser surgery is usually only recommended if there are just a few crypts on your tonsils that need treating. If you have a lot of deep crypts, your doctor may recommend having your tonsils removed completely.


If your tonsil stones are really starting to become excessive or laser surgery does not stop them sufficiently, you may want to have your tonsils removed completely. This is a pretty straightforward operation. You'll be put under general anesthesia, your surgeon will use a scalpel to cut away your tonsil tissue, and then the area will be cauterized to stop bleeding. Your throat will be sore for a week or two, but there shouldn't be any serious side effects in the long run -- and you absolutely will never have tonsil stones again.

Coughing up one tonsil stone every month or two is not usually a cause for concern, but if your tonsil stones have begun to bother you, it's time to explore these treatment options. For more information, contact Eastern Carolina Ear Nose & Throat-Head or a similar location.