What causes white or yellow patches on tonsils and how to treat them?

Symptom Database

White or yellow patches on the tonsils can be a cause for concern and may indicate an underlying issue. These patches, also known as tonsil patches or tonsil discoloration, can be a sign of various conditions, including tonsil infection or other tonsil problems. Understanding the causes and knowing how to treat them is essential for maintaining good tonsil health. In this article, we will explore the possible causes of white or yellow patches on tonsils and provide effective remedies and care tips.

Causes of White Patches on Tonsils

White patches on the tonsils can be caused by several factors, including:

  • Tonsil Stones: These are small, hard deposits that form in the crevices of the tonsils. They are made up of bacteria, dead cells, and food particles. Tonsil stones can cause white patches on the tonsils and lead to bad breath.
  • Strep Throat: A bacterial infection caused by Streptococcus bacteria can result in white patches on the tonsils. Other symptoms of strep throat include sore throat, difficulty swallowing, and swollen lymph nodes.
  • Oral Thrush: This fungal infection, caused by Candida yeast, can cause white patches on the tonsils and other areas of the mouth. It is more common in individuals with weakened immune systems or those taking certain medications.
  • Tonsillitis: Inflammation of the tonsils, known as tonsillitis, can cause white patches on the tonsils. It is often accompanied by symptoms such as sore throat, fever, and swollen tonsils.

Causes of Yellow Patches on Tonsils

Yellow patches on the tonsils can also be indicative of certain conditions. Some possible causes include:

  • Tonsillitis: In addition to white patches, tonsillitis can also cause yellow patches on the tonsils.
  • Mononucleosis: Commonly known as mono, this viral infection can lead to yellow patches on the tonsils, along with other symptoms like fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and fever.
  • Smoking: Smoking can cause yellow discoloration on the tonsils due to the accumulation of tar and other harmful substances.

Treatment and Remedies for Tonsil Patches

The treatment for white or yellow patches on the tonsils depends on the underlying cause. Here are some remedies and care tips that can help:

1. Practice Good Oral Hygiene

Maintaining good oral hygiene is crucial for preventing and treating tonsil patches. Brush your teeth twice a day, floss regularly, and use an antiseptic mouthwash to reduce bacteria in the mouth.

2. Gargle with Salt Water

Gargling with warm salt water can help reduce inflammation and kill bacteria in the throat. Mix half a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water and gargle for 30 seconds, then spit it out. Repeat several times a day.

3. Stay Hydrated

Drinking plenty of fluids helps keep the throat moist and can alleviate discomfort caused by tonsil patches. Opt for warm liquids like herbal tea or soup to soothe the throat.

4. Use a Humidifier

Using a humidifier in your bedroom can add moisture to the air and prevent dryness in the throat, reducing the risk of tonsil problems.

5. Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers

If you are experiencing pain or discomfort due to tonsil patches, over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can provide temporary relief. However, consult a healthcare professional before taking any medication.

6. Antibiotics

If the tonsil patches are caused by a bacterial infection, such as strep throat, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to eliminate the infection.

7. Surgical Removal

In severe cases of recurring tonsil infections or tonsil stones, surgical removal of the tonsils, known as a tonsillectomy, may be recommended. This procedure is typically a last resort when other treatments have failed.

It is important to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan for tonsil patches. They can provide personalized advice based on your specific condition.


White or yellow patches on the tonsils can be a sign of various conditions, including tonsil stones, strep throat, oral thrush, and tonsillitis. Maintaining good oral hygiene, gargling with salt water, staying hydrated, and using a humidifier can help alleviate symptoms and promote tonsil health. In some cases, antibiotics or surgical removal of the tonsils may be necessary. If you notice any unusual tonsil discoloration or experience persistent symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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