Sunday, August 27, 2006

those nasty-ass throat pellets

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Have you ever coughed up a whitish or yellowish piece of nastiness that feels as though it came from the back of your throat? It's usually shaped like a tiny piece of gravel, but with no rough edges. It can be only a millimeter or two in width, or can be a big honkin' piece of crap nearly 8mm wide. When I was young, I made the mistake of smooshing one after having hacked it into the sink. The resultant stink was indescribably bad. Over the years, I've probably hacked and horked up dozens or even hundreds of these bad boys, but I never knew what they were called.

My buddy Dr. Steve very colorfully referred to them as "throat pellets." Just a few moments ago, my brother David sent me a link to a page that describes what these things are. They're called tonsilloliths, or tonsil stones (hence "-lith"), and they're as filthy as they smell, according to Dr. Hoffman:

These things are called tonsilloliths ("tonsil stones").... They are typically white, or whitish-yellow, irregularly-shaped, foul-smelling, and usually smaller than a pea. The tissue lining the tonsils (oral mucosa) is fairly sensitive, so people with this problem often report that they feel an irritation in the back of their throat and are able to pick these critters out of their tonsils.

Like your skin, oral mucosa sheds continuously. The dead cells become incorporated in your saliva and then you swallow them. Yum! One more anatomical fact that you need to know: the surface of your tonsils is pockmarked with deep pits, appropriately called "crypts" (since dead stuff accumulates in these pits). Oral mucosa lines the crypts. Under normal circumstances, as this mucosa sheds, the dead cells leave the crypts and are swallowed. In some unlucky people, ...the dead cells accumulate and glom together to form hard little balls. All of this dead stuff makes great food for bacteria, and of course your oral cavity is colonized by all kinds of bacteria. Consequently, the tonsilloliths are ripe with bacteria. This accounts for the smell.

A slightly gloomier entry on tonsilloliths, which highlights some of their dangers(!), can be found here.

I haven't had any tonsil stones for months, but they do tend to reappear in the winter. I often associate them with sickness, but I've coughed them up even when I haven't been sick.

Cool pic of tonsilloliths in their natural habitat here. Look toward the left side of the picture for two white points.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In the spirit of sharing...

And even though your post is eight months old, I figured I'd pass this link to a friend's blog wherein she details a Fecallith (sp?).

Bon appetite!