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The palatine tonsils are two small masses of soft, lymphatic tissue that are located on either side of the back of the tongue at the rear of the throat. Each of these tonsils is covered by pink mucosa that is covered by small channels called crypts. The tonsils function as part of the immune system, defending the mouth, respiratory tract, and gastrointestinal tract from infectious agents.
Sometimes, however, the tonsils themselves may become infected and swollen. When this happens, the condition is referred to as tonsillitis. Tonsillitis usually occurs as the result of a virus or a bacterial infection; less frequently, tonsillitis may also be caused by fungal or parasitic infections as well. As a result, individuals who develop tonsillitis generally experience symptoms such as a sore throat, swollen tonsils, a fever, difficulty swallowing, a headache, and voice loss. This condition is highly contagious and may be spread easily to others through contact and body fluids.
In contrast, tonsil stones are small, whitish blobs that become lodged in the crypts of the tonsils. Tonsil stones, or tonsilloliths, occur when accumulated debris, mucus, and microorganisms hardens into tiny masses. This condition involves symptoms like bad breath, a sore throat, difficulty swallowing, earaches, and visible white debris at the back of the throat.
Although both tonsillitis and tonsil stones involve tonsils that are swollen, red, and have white patches, the two conditions are not interchangeable. The inflammation is similar in both conditions, which leads to similar effects like a sore throat, painful swallowing, and white marks at the back of the throat. However, for people with tonsillitis, the white marks on the tonsils are due to pus. For those with tonsil stones, the white marks on the tonsils are the stones themselves. Additionally, individuals who experience chronic tonsillitis have a high risk of developing tonsil stones, as repeated inflammation in the tonsils can facilitate the accumulation of debris.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor. He or she can determine the cause of your problem and can suggest treatments to reduce your symptoms, such as gargles, antibiotics, steroids, or even the surgical removal of the affected areas on your tonsils.
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