: January 2015 – May 2015 :
What do you think of when you hear the word tonsils?
Strep throat? Tonsillitis? The dangly uvula thingy?
Though all these things are relevant and may come to mind, today we’re going to focus on the tonsil’s function and their role in the immune system. What even do tonsils do? What’s the point of having them if they can be removed and you can live without them? How do they relate to IBD?
Tonsils protect mainly against throat, respiratory, and gastrointestinal infections by reserving antibodies, ready to send out at a moment’s notice to defend the body from foreign invaders.
However, in addition to storing helpful antibodies, tonsils are an easy reservoir for mucus, bacteria, saliva, and food. After all, tonsils are naturally cave-like in the sense that they are made of tiny pockets, or crypts. Perfect for storing those antibodies, but also all-too-perfect to catch those nasty renegade follicles.
You may be thinking, Jenna, why are we talking about tonsils? This is pretty random. There is a tie to IBD, I promise! 🙂 And here it is:
Since tonsils are a key player in the immune system, they can be affected by drugs that alter the immune system—Prednisone for example. Dun dun dun!
Drawing from my last post, Prednisone is a corticosteroid (steroid for short) that reduces inflammation and suppresses your immune system. And, since IBD is an autoimmune disease where your immune system attacks your own cells, suppressing your immune system can prevent your tonsils from functioning effectively.
See where I’m going with this?
In January 2015, I noticed Prednisone’s consequence on my immune system. I actually wouldn’t have noticed it without the help of my dentist!
Here’s what happened:
I was at my normal six-month dentist checkup when the hygienist exclaimed, “Oh, whoa, you’ve got something on your throat!”
She handed me a mirror and I opened wide.
Small. White. Chucks. Scattered all throughout the back of my throat. It was completely disgusting.
“Does your throat hurt?” She asked me.
“No, I don’t feel anything at all. What are they?”
Her prediction was tonsil stones. Scientifically known as tonsilloliths, they’re whiteish-yellowish stones of accumulated calcified bacteria, food, and dead cells. Ew.
I did take some photos to show my GI doctor and discuss their link between Prednisone and my ulcerative colitis. But I’m not going to post any photos because they are gross and have the potential to make even strong stomachs queasy. Just picture dozens of small white gobs chillin’ on the surface of your tonsils.
I experienced no pain, but I was determined to remove these uninvited guests. I absolutely didn’t want these blocks of bacteria suffocating what’s left of my already-suppressed immune system!
I also wanted them gone because they can cause your breath to be stank. I was sitting in church with my mom and I whispered something to her; I remember her face squinch up from the smell (and this is right after brushing my teeth and having a breath mint!).
No way I could let these smelly chunks turn my tonsils into their home.
So I tried various methods to remove them:
1. Urgent Care
Hopeful that urgent care would be more helpful than when I visited at the onset of my IBD symptoms a mere four months prior, I visited my local urgent care in search of a solution. The doctor prescribed me penicillin, an antibiotic.
But, it was only after taking this for a short week or two that I found out antibiotics could only lower the amount of bacteria. Meaning that the penicillin couldn’t make my current tonsil stones go away; they could just prevent new ones from forming. And this luxury vanishes as soon as you’re off the antibiotic.
So this was obviously not a solution.
2. The Good ol’ Salt Water Gargle
I did this twice a day, trying to loosen the tonsil stones. To no avail.
This high-pressurized water-hose for the throat held potential. It knocked down some stones. Boy, was it a relief to see the flesh of my tonsils again in the spot a white tonsillolith once claimed. However, I noticed that the stones would come back in the same places within a day or two.
I dunked Q-tips in warm salt water and gently scrubbed my tonsils, essentially trying to dig out the stones. This by far my least favorite method. It hurt. It made me gag. And it was so gross to see the stones come out as I went through about ten Q-tips to clear my throat.
It was nasty (and honestly probably not the best for my throat) but it was the most effective method for me. The stones would still come back though 🙁 Just not as often.
Yup. I decided to go for the gold. Nothing else was working and I was sick and disgusted of looking at these chunky, bad-breath-causing, unattractive calcified bits. I wanted to eliminate the problem at its source.
So in May 2015 (with the approval from my GI doctor) I got my tonsils removed. And it’s not that I didn’t try to tough it out. For over four months, I gargled, hosed, scraped, picked, and brushed. I was tired of gagging almost every day. I was tired of the constant stinky breath that I could do nothing about.
Bye bye tonsils and tonsil stones! See you never!
Now that I’m tonsil-less, I am more prone to infections, particularly when on an immunosuppresant drug like Prednisone. I just have to be careful to wash my hands a lot and take precautions when I feel like I might be catching a cold.
My personal go-tos are always Zinc tablets and Emergen-C packets. I swear by the Zinc tablets! If you take them as the instructions explain and as soon as you start feeling sick, it makes your cold shorter and less powerful.Whether you’re on Prednisone or another immunosuppresant drug or not, tonsil stones have the uncanny ability to creep into anyone’s tonsil pockets. Talk with your doctor and dentist about ways to prevent tonsil stones from the get-go!
Summary & Takeaway
I hope you all have a fabulous rest of your week and a fun Easter weekend! Catch you next Thursday!
In The Comical Colon’s Facebook group, let’s start a conversation:
Have you experienced the pleasantries of tonsil stones? Tell us about your experience in the private Facebook group! What methods did you try to eliminate them? What worked and what didn’t?
I truly believe that the way to bridge this disease type’s chasm of alienation, fear, being misunderstood, etc. is to engage in community and share our experiences to help others along their journeys. Let’s not keep these adventures to ourselves! Let’s learn to share our fears, our trials, and our triumphs to find the comical in the deepest, darkest crevices of our guts—and tonsils!