What Causes White Spots On Your Tonsils?

White spots on the tonsils are no stranger to many of us, and these spots are a sign of numerous conditions. To understand the various causes, it helps to know the role your tonsils play in maintaining your overall health. The tonsils — a pair of small, round structures located at the back of the throat — are part of the lymphatic system, which helps to combat infection in the body (via WebMD).

When harmful organisms, such as bacteria and viruses, enter the body through the nose or mouth, the tonsils help to trap these organisms and prevent them from spreading to other parts of the body, per the Cleveland Clinic. When the tonsils are functioning properly, they produce white blood cells, which help identify and neutralize germs, explains the clinic. Despite the tonsils' role in immune support, they're also susceptible to various conditions which can cause white spots.

If you have white spots on your tonsils that last more than a few days, or if you experience serious pain or difficulty swallowing, see a healthcare provider to determine the cause. They can perform a physical examination, take a culture of the spots, and, if necessary, prescribe the appropriate treatment.

What are the causes of white spots on the tonsils?

One of the most common causes of white spots on the tonsils is tonsillitis, an inflammation of the tonsils. According to the Mayo Clinic, tonsillitis can be caused by several different bacteria and viruses, with Streptococcus pyogenes (which causes strep throat) being a common cause. Other possible culprits include infectious mononucleosis and oral herpes. Along with a white coating on the tonsils, tonsillitis often occurs alongside other symptoms such as sore throat, fever, swollen tonsils, and difficulty swallowing, per the clinic.

According to Medical News Today, oral thrush is another potential cause of white spots on the throat. This fungal infection is also known as oral candidiasis and is caused by the yeast Candida albicans — it is most commonly seen in infants and older adults but can affect anyone, per the Mayo Clinic. Oral thrush typically affects the tongue and inner cheeks, but in some cases, it can also affect the tonsils. When oral thrush affects the tonsils, it may cause white lesions on the tonsils, explains the clinic.

Tonsil stones are another condition that causes white spots on the tonsils (per Medical News Today). The condition is also known as tonsilloliths and is characterized by hard lumps that form in the crevices of the tonsils, per the Cleveland Clinic. They are made up of food particles, minerals, and bacteria that get trapped in the tonsils and calcify over time.

In rare cases, white patches on the tonsils could indicate oral cancer or precancerous leukoplakia. On the other hand, a single white spot could simply be a canker sore, according to Medical News Today.

How are white spots on tonsils treated?

The treatment for white spots on the throat depends on the underlying cause of the spots. If the white spots are caused by an infection, such as strep throat, antibiotics or other medication may be prescribed to eliminate the infection (via the Mayo Clinic). If the white spots are caused by oral thrush, antifungal medications (sometimes in the form of lozenges) may be prescribed, according to Healthline.

If tonsil stones cause the white spots, treatment options include simple home remedies such as salt water gargling or drinking plenty of water. According to the Cleveland Clinic, you can also try to remove tonsil stones by gently pressing on the tonsils with a cotton swab.

Alternatively, you can visit an ENT specialist who may use specialized tools to surgically remove the stones. Professional care such as tonsillectomy (removal of tonsils) might be needed for severe or recurrent cases.