What is Cryptic Tonsillitis?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Cryptic tonsillitis is a medical condition in which calcareous deposits, made of calcium carbonate, form and harden in the crevasses, or crypts, of the palatine tonsils located at the back of the throat. These deposits, called tonsilloliths, tonsil stones, or zots, can cause discomfort, sore throat, and halitosis, or bad breath. If small, however, they are often asymptomatic.

Someone with cryptic tonsillitis will experience a sore throat.
Someone with cryptic tonsillitis will experience a sore throat.

Cryptic tonsillitis affects children more than adults, but it is a common ailment in general. Tonsilloliths are hard and white or yellow in appearance. They can be caused by dead white blood cells, bacteria of fungi, food particles, excess saliva or mucous, or smoking without a filter. They are usually diagnosed through inspection, sometimes through imaging techniques such as x-ray or computed tomography (CT) scans.

Tonsil cysts, or tonsil stones, are small, yellowish in color, and form in the back of the throat within the tonsils.
Tonsil cysts, or tonsil stones, are small, yellowish in color, and form in the back of the throat within the tonsils.

While cryptic tonsillitis often goes unnoticed, it can cause symptoms including a metallic or foul taste in the back of the throat, halitosis, frequent coughing, choking or difficulty swallowing, pain in the ear, and infection. A 2007 medical study found that 75% of subjects suffering from halitosis, but only 6% of those with normal breath, had cryptic tonsillitis. In rare cases, giant tonsilloliths reaching a full centimeter in diameter can form.

A doctor may recommend tonsil removal if tonsils are infected on a regular basis.
A doctor may recommend tonsil removal if tonsils are infected on a regular basis.

There are various treatments for this condition, depending on its severity. Tonsil stones can often be removed with the tongue or by tensing the throat or stimulating the gag reflex, causing the tonsils to tense and expel the stone. Drinking a lot of water or club soda, regular tooth brushing, and gargling with mouthwash can also help loosen and dislodge tonsil stones. If small stones form deep within the tonsils, they are difficult to dislodge, but most of these do not cause serious symptoms, and work their way to the surface eventually.

Halitosis, or bad breath, might be caused by cryptic tonsillitis.
Halitosis, or bad breath, might be caused by cryptic tonsillitis.

In severe cases, cryptic tonsillitis may be treated by surgical removal of the tonsil stone with an oral curette, a thin scraping tool. Laser resurfacing, in which the surfaces of the tonsils are smoothed to remove the crypts, is an option for chronic cryptic tonsillitis. The most aggressive treatment, used only as a last resort, is tonsillectomy, or surgical removal of the tonsils. Tonsillectomy can weaken a person's immune system, so it is avoided whenever possible.

To identify cryptic tonsillitis, a CT scan may sometimes be necessary.
To identify cryptic tonsillitis, a CT scan may sometimes be necessary.
Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments

anon993910

I've had that stuff for about 16 years. What are the white things, some sort of infection? I got them after I went to the doctor and had a long term sinus infection and he gave me antibiotics- I'm assuming that was the source of this whole thing!

Too bad I didn't just not take the antibiotics, because when I eventually changed my diet via the Weston a price diet, my chronic sinus infection disappeared in a few months, but these spots are still there.

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