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The Grossest Thing I’ve Read in Ages

September 1, 2009
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In Tonsils, a Problem the Size of a Pea – in the New York Times

You all must suspect by now that I have a strong stomach and a high tolerance for things others might find gross or upsetting. For something to make me temporarily stop reading mid-way through, that’s something. This something is tonsilloliths, or tonsil stones.

I mean, really:

From then on, Ms. Swann, now 25 and living in the St. Louis area, engaged in a secret ritual: popping the mushrooming bits of debris out of her tonsils with a cotton swab whenever they got big enough to cause discomfort.

Oh. my.

And of course, being the tactful and thoughtful and gracious person that I am, I emailed this story to just one person, with an indication of just how very much it grossed me out. And that one person experiences tonsilloliths. Luckily the recipient is more gracious than am I.

The whole thing gives me the willies.* All this time, I’ve been feeling superior to the spouse who does not have tonsils, ’cause I have an intact immune system and whatnot. And stuff might come out of them? Somebody hold me.

I’m sure it’s not really that bad, and nobody should have to suffer in silence with anything. The way the NY Times wrote about it, though? “I go to the bathroom for 10 or 15 minutes and push on my tonsils until they start popping out?” Horrifying.

Librarians, I didn’t see a specific MeSH term (I see a lot of indexing with Calculi and/or Lithiasis). Here’s a search.

*Disclaimer that maybe I’m just being a jerk or a weirdo, and that really nobody should be made to feel like *they* are disgusting just because this article grossed me out, and various repetitions of similar sentiments, etc. etc.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Sara permalink
    September 2, 2009 7:37 am

    I’m with you! I worked in the medical writing field and while graphic images of disease and surgery were a part of my job, they affected me much less than this… I think the “squishy” nature of the tonsilloliths and the fact that the process is very zit-like hit all my yuck buttons. Makes me glad mine are gone!

  2. September 2, 2009 8:34 am

    “I’ve been feeling superior to the spouse who does not have tonsils”

    Ah, yes. The privileging of the betonsilled ones. We are an elite set. How many generations removed are Americans from routine tonsillectomies?

    I have heard of tonsilloliths but never by name. I’m about to fearfully Google them…

  3. Heather permalink
    September 2, 2009 12:15 pm

    Well, I have to admit that I have them, and a good friend of mine does, too. I don’t really have to dig mine out though. They come out “naturally” when they are too big to be stuck up there anymore.

    My friend refers to them as “people pearls.”

    And for the record they really do smell TERRIBLE! And it’s gross. Really gross.

  4. B.A. permalink
    September 2, 2009 2:00 pm

    I’m with you, it grossed me out too! Now I’m wondering if my kids have them…all three have strep throat or tonsilitis often and will occasionally have really bad breath (especially right before they get sick). Thanks for the link to the search – there’s a good article from Nurse Practitioner that explains the condition really well.

  5. B.A. permalink
    September 2, 2009 2:01 pm

    Oh, I forgot to ask, maybe this is a stupid question, but how do people “pop” them without gagging themselves??

    • September 2, 2009 7:05 pm

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who is wondering that!

  6. September 2, 2009 7:22 pm

    I had my tonsils removed as a kid, so we’re not exactly generations away from tonsil-removed people. My husband has tonsilliths on occasion, and never knew what they were until I happened to read an article soon after he had coughed one up. He always thought they were coming from his lungs, and that there was some kind of horrible clump of calcified crap in there. He *does* have a pretty bad chronic cough, so god only knows what’s in there.

  7. September 13, 2009 8:24 pm

    It is totally gross! I get them and I know!

    I have to hose them out with an infant ear syringe and warm salt water.

  8. September 26, 2010 2:03 pm

    Tonsil stones is truly a nuisance. And worst of all we all look for quick fixes which just is not possible. And yes it totally is gross.

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