Tonsil stones: what are those throat plaques?

December 31, 2023

Tonsil stones (or Plaques in the throat) from tonsillitis or pharyngitis are a common problem that can affect people of all ages. Although they can be painful and annoying, most plaques in the throat are not serious and resolve on their own or with simple home treatment.

In some cases, however, being an infection, things can get worse if the situation is not properly taken care of. Let’s see together what to do, especially if the plaques are in your child’s throat.

How come plaques in the throat?

Plaques in the throat, a frequent and annoying condition, are mainly the result of infections of viral or bacterial origin. The most common culprits of these infections are the viruses responsible for the common cold and flu, but many other pathogens can cause plaques in the throat. Among these, group A streptococcus is one of the most well-known and widespread.

In addition to viruses and bacteria, various factors can make the throat more susceptible to infection and thus plaque formation. Exposure to cigarette smoke, for example, can irritate the throat and make it more vulnerable to infection. The same goes for air pollution, which can bring irritating particles and potential pathogens to the throat.

Allergies can also contribute to plaque formation in the throat, just as a weakened immune system can increase susceptibility to throat infections.

What to do in case of plaques in the throat?

In case of plaques in the throat, it is important to drink plenty of fluids and rest to help the body fight the infection. Over-the-counter analgesics can help relieve pain and fever. If the plaques in your throat are caused by a bacterial infection, you may need a course of antibiotics prescribed by a doctor. Always remember, when taking antibiotics, to have them prescribed first and then to follow the recommended dosage faithfully to heal and not generate dangerous bacterial resistance.

As transient as they may seem, plaques are not a condition to be underestimated and the best thing would be to go to your doctor and figure out what is causing the plaques to get an effective and quick solution.

How long do tonsil stones last?

The duration of throat plaques varies depending on the underlying cause. In most cases, symptoms begin to improve within a week and with appropriate therapy should resolve within two weeks. However, some infections, such as mononucleosis, can cause symptoms that last several weeks. If there are recurrent or persistent plaques in the throat or adenoids, it is important to consult a doctor to rule out more serious conditions.

When to be concerned about plaques in the throat?

Although most plaques in the throat tend to be harmless, there are some signs and symptoms that require medical attention. These include a severe and persistent sore throat, difficulty breathing or swallowing, high or persistent fever, enlarged or painful lymph nodes in the neck, rash, or presence of blood in mucus or saliva.

How to remove plaques DIY?

Several home remedies can help relieve the symptoms of plaques in the throat. Gargling with saline solution, throat lozenges, drinking hot tea with honey or lemon, or inhaling steam can help relieve sore throat.

As you may know, we are not fans of Grandma’s methods or do-it-yourself solutions. Remember that solutions such as these are not a cure, but merely a way to manage symptoms temporarily. Since you don’t know and, more importantly, don’t treat the underlying cause, you can’t be sure that these “solutions” won’t make things worse. Be very careful about relying on DIY methods, especially when an infection is involved.

Mechanically removing plaques is not normally a good idea, although in some fortunate cases it might seem like a (temporary) resolution.

Tonsil stones

When are plaques contagious?

Plaques in the throat are generally contagious and can be transmitted through droplets of saliva when a person coughs or sneezes, or through direct contact, such as kissing or sharing glasses or cutlery. It is, as with any contagious disease, important to wash your hands regularly and stay away from infected people to reduce the risk of contracting or spreading the infection.

If your child has plaques in his or her throat, you should not let him or her meet other children until the contagious stage has passed.

We know that some daycare centers turn a blind eye, but this is not a useful practice, as it can cause the problem to spread among children and educators and make it a lazaret for most of the year, causing countless inconveniences at home for families and the loss of many days of work.

How to tell if I have viral or bacterial plaques?

It is not always easy to tell whether infections in the throat area may be caused by viruses or bacteria, however, some signs can help make the distinction. For example, if there are enlarged and inflamed lymph nodes, swollen glands, exudate on the tonsils, and lack of cough, it is likely to be a bacterial infection. On the other hand, symptoms such as nasal congestion, nasal discharge, inflammation of the larynx, hoarseness, and cough, both dry and productive, are more commonly associated with viral infections.

The safest way would be a specific swab to rule out or reveal the true pathogen, but this is not always part of the diagnostic pathway.

When to take antibiotics for plaques?

As we have understood and repeated, antibiotics are effective only on bacterial infections. After understanding that it should be taken always and only when you are certain of this, for example, if a diagnostic swab detects streptococcal tonsillitis of bacterial origin, the use of antibiotics is recommended in this case. This approach aims to avoid the development of serious complications, such as rheumatic fever, regardless of the symptoms manifested by the patient. It could also be that the patient is particularly sensitive or the immune system needs support, so the doctor may decide to prescribe an antibiotic course.

We are with you.

At Parentalife, we understand how stressful it can be when you or a family member suffers from plaque in the throat. We are here to help you navigate through all the challenges of parenting by offering personalized guides (like our MAMISleep), classes, and counseling to help you take care of the management and well-being of your children and family. Don’t hesitate to contact us, you are not alone.


1. Mohammed F, Fairozekhan AT. Oral Leukoplakia. [Updated 2023 Jul 17]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from:
2. Mortazavi H, Safi Y, Baharvand M, Jafari S, Anbari F, Rahmani S. Oral White Lesions: An Updated Clinical Diagnostic Decision Tree. Dent J (Basel). 2019 Feb 7;7(1):15. doi: 10.3390/dj7010015. PMID: 30736423; PMCID: PMC6473409.

About the Author

Severino Cirillo

Health, Wellness and Education Expert. With a degree in Community Health, he is the CEO of Informed Parent and is responsible for validating the blog's scientific information and coordinating the editorial team of experts, consisting of gynecologists, midwives, psychotherapists, and others in pregnancy, perinatal, and parenting wellness and health.