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Tonsil Cyst Explained: Symptoms, Causes, and Effective Treatments

Editorial Team
By
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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What Is a Tonsil Cyst?

Occasionally, a person might discover a peculiar white spot on their tonsil, which could be a tonsil cyst. These cysts are fluid or pus-filled vesicles emerging from the tonsils and are generally benign. According to a study published in the Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, tonsillar cysts are relatively uncommon, with a prevalence rate of about 10% in the population undergoing tonsillectomy for various reasons. While most tonsil cysts do not pose a serious health risk, the American Academy of Otolaryngology states that persistent or recurrent lesions should be evaluated to rule out malignancy. If left untreated, even benign tonsil cysts can become infected, necessitating timely medical attention to prevent complications.

There are danger signs and warnings to look out for with cysts that have formed on the tonsils. Difficulty in swallowing or anything that prevents the patient from eating normally should be brought to a doctor's attention. General bleeding from the area is not typical with tonsil cysts, although some cases may differ.

Tonsil cysts differ from tonsil stones, which are known as tonsilloliths. A tonsil cyst is generally softer and not solid as a stone would be. Cysts seem more like bumps in appearance. With the presence of cysts located on the tonsils, the typical procedure involves a physician performing a biopsy of the tissue. This is done to examine the cells and ensure there are no signs of cancerous tissue present. A doctor can generally tell if the cyst is infected by the fluid matter that drains from it.

In some patients who suffer from frequent sinus infections or inflamed tonsils, fluid can become trapped and form into a 'pocket.' This sac then becomes a tonsil cyst. Under most circumstances, the doctor might decide to remove the cyst, unless it shows signs of draining on its own. Typically, the doctor will prescribe a course of antibiotics to treat the infection or prevent one from developing. If the tonsils are inflamed and infected, the physician may consider removing them through a surgical procedure known as a tonsillectomy.

In many cases, a general practitioner may refer the patient to a specialist who treats diseases and conditions of the throat. Such a physician is an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT), professionally known as a otorhinolaryngologist. The specialist, who is typically qualified to perform surgery, will most likely have recommendations for the patient. He may tell his patient to refrain from smoking, as this can cause further irritation. Gargling with an antiseptic mouthwash might also be recommended.

If a patient requires removal of the tonsil cyst as well as a tonsillectomy, the physician generally prefers to wait until the infection has been cleared. This is generally after a 10-day course of antibiotic treatment and evaluation. It is considered to be safer to operate when there are no signs of infection present.

Can I Treat Tonsil Cyst Naturally or at Home?

While tonsil cysts don’t always pose immediate harm, it’s still essential to have a healthcare professional check if a patient discovers cysts in their tonsils. Furthermore, a doctor should immediately examine one who has cysts accompanied by fever, muscle fatigue, stiff neck, or a persistent sore throat.

Tonsil cancer can be mistaken for tonsil cysts since their symptoms are very similar. If a patient is experiencing the symptoms of tonsil cysts, it’s best to take precautions and see a doctor.

If tonsil cysts have been confirmed, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics. In complicated cases, or in cases where the cysts are recurring, doctors might recommend having the tonsils removed surgically.

Tonsil cysts need immediate medical care, as delaying treatment can lead to severe infections.

Tonsil cysts can be prevented by taking precautions at home. These cysts are symptoms of infections in the tonsils, otherwise called tonsillitis. The infection is commonly caused by mononucleosis (mono) and bad dental hygiene. Therefore, maintaining good dental and gum hygiene can help prevent infections from occurring in the tonsils.

What Happens When Your Tonsil Cyst Bursts?

A tonsil cyst that bursts or ruptures on its own can be extremely dangerous and even life-threatening. When a tonsil cyst bursts, the puss-filled fluid released from the ruptured cyst can travel down the throat and spread infection throughout the body. The pus and bacteria can even spread into the lungs and cause pneumonia

Ruptured or burst tonsil cysts are incredibly dangerous. For this reason, the goal of treating tonsil cysts is to treat the abscess early.

What Happens When Your Tonsil Cyst Bursts?

Tonsil cancer doesn’t form cysts. However as mentioned earlier, tonsil cysts and tonsil cancer have many of the same symptoms. For this reason, it’s difficult to know whether the condition is a cyst or cancer without a thorough checkup and testing by a healthcare professional.

Symptoms that overlap between tonsil cysts and tonsil cancer include:

  • Difficulty eating or swallowing
  • Ear pain
  • The feeling that something is stuck in the back of the throat

Since it is difficult to visually differentiate between tonsil cysts and cancerous tumors, patients must seek proper care from a general practitioner or better yet, an ENT.

General practitioners can sometimes differentiate between a tonsil cyst and a cancerous tumor from the appearance. The difficulty comes with the similarity between sores from tonsil cancer and tonsil cysts.

Suppose the doctor or general practitioner suspects cancer. In that case, they will conduct a biopsy on the abscess to see if the lump is cancerous. They might also perform an imaging test, such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a PET scan, or a computed tomography (CT) scan, to determine whether or not cancer has spread. 

If cancer is detected, there are several treatment options a healthcare provider might take. Transoral robotic surgery (TORS) is performed on patients in the early stages of cancer. 

Radiation therapy uses a high-energy radiation beam to kill cancer cells. It shrinks tumors or kills off any remaining cancer cells after surgery. Chemotherapy is often used alongside radiation therapy to kill any slow-growing cancer cells. 

The prognosis for tonsil cancer is generally favorable even if induced by human papillomavirus (HPV). Eighty-five to Ninety percent of tonsil cancers caused by HPV are expected to survive. The earlier the cancer is detected and treated, the more likely the patient is to recover fully. 

Can You Get Tonsil Cysts If You Don’t Have Tonsils?

Oddly enough, people can get tonsil cysts even if they don’t have tonsils but this occurs only in extremely rare cases. 

As mentioned earlier, tonsillectomy is a procedure where the tonsils are surgically removed. This routine surgery is commonly conducted on children who experience frequent tonsil infections. Getting a tonsillectomy does reduce the risk of developing diseases in the tonsils. However, the risk doesn’t outright disappear. 

Some tonsil tissue is left behind during a tonsillectomy, and the leftover tonsil tissue can form tonsil cysts. For this to occur, the infection must take place in tissues near the tonsil, such as the pharynx, gums, or tongue. 

Conclusion

Tonsil cysts, while relatively minor, can cause significant suffering and even worse when left unchecked. Knowing the different symptoms, treatment options, and similarities of tonsil cysts with other diseases is worthwhile especially when the consequences are so dire. Prevention beats a cure, so patients following the suggestions above should live happily with healthy tonsils.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Editorial Team
By Editorial Team
Our Editorial Team, made up of seasoned professionals, prioritizes accuracy and quality in every piece of content. With years of experience in journalism and publishing, we work diligently to deliver reliable and well-researched content to our readers.
Discussion Comments
By anon327766 — On Mar 30, 2013

Just go to the ENT. I'm pretty sure 16 years of school wins over reading an article or what other non-doctors think.

By clintflint — On Nov 02, 2012

@KoiwiGal - They might be harmless to your tonsils but they sure can give you a few sleepless nights until you work out what they are. I kept feeling like I had something in my throat and spotted a tiny lump of white on one of my tonsils.

I went to the internet and left convinced that the lump was cancer or a cyst or a symptom of strep or any number of things. Every time I looked at it, it seemed to be bigger (which I now realize was my imagination).

When I went to the doctor she basically explained that lots of people have tonsil stones and they are pretty easy to tell from cysts if you know what to look for. But it was pretty embarrassing. I don't want to discourage anyone from going to the doctor, but you need to try not to overreact.

By KoiwiGal — On Nov 01, 2012

@anon273547 - The cysts aren't food trapped in the area, those are the tonsil "stones" or tonsilloliths. The cysts are the same as any other kind of skin infections, basically. They might have several causes (including diseases like strep throat).

The stones are generally thought to be caused by a buildup of food getting caught in the tonsils, which is why they are usually associated with bad breath. But, generally, they are pretty harmless in terms of tonsil pathology.

By anon273547 — On Jun 07, 2012

Go to an ENT doc. If you have strep they can do a culture. I had the same thing and was walking around thinking I had cancer after a doctor freaked me out.

I had a CT scan but can't do the dye because of an allergy so they wanted to biopsy. The second doc said it looked like a cyst and come back in four weeks. He didn't feel it was necessary to biopsy. If it grows we will then biopsy and he could remove tonsil. He said cysts are food or something -- anything just trapped in that area. If it's cancer it grows fast from what I understand and it's hard, not soft to the touch.

I suggest you get it checked out, since ENT docs know what to look for.

Good luck. I am waiting mine out for the next month. I didn't even know it was there until a doc saw it in a routine exam. I still have no clue but the second doc said it appears to be a cyst.

By anon256624 — On Mar 22, 2012

A tonsil cyst doesn't hurt or bleed. It's a yellowish looking rounded and smooth bump. With strep or a throat infection, you would more than likely have a sore throat and redness. It would appear irritated. Tonsil cysts are painless. In my case, I didn't even know I had one until I went to have my stuffy ear looked at. The doctor saw it when checking my throat.

My ENT said to leave it alone as long as it doesn't bother me. But definitely go see your ENT.

By anon133315 — On Dec 10, 2010

I've had infectious mononucleosis in June. It began with severe tonsillitis which was mistreated with a antibiotic that put me in hospital due to an allergic reaction. Had two other antibiotics in the next 10 days.

A week ago my annual rhino-secretion at the back of my throat began which led to a very bad throat ache, swollen lymph nodes and tonsils. On the third day it began to look like tonsillitis and the pain got even greater with a fever of 37,4 C (not more). I've been treating my tonsils with whatnot, gargling, granophorin, soda, in an attempt not to take an antibiotic because my immune system had already been shattered enough.

Now a week later my throat doesn't hurt anymore, nor my nodes. It's just that there is a small (or not so anymore) hole in my left tonsil which is constantly filling up with white fluid which i swallow then it fills back in immediately. It's insane!

My doctor still doesn't have the idea of tonsil cyst. I feel like I'm fighting alone against that thing and nobody cares or knows what's going on!? The test says i have no bacterias which may cause an infection. So what the heck? Can a cyst be nonbacterial? -- Yoana

By closerfan12 — On Nov 12, 2010

I have recently been feeling a lump in my throat kind of around where I would think the bottom of my tonsils would be, so I'm starting to wonder if I might have a tonsil cyst.

Of course, it's so low down in my throat that I'm also a little worried that it could be a laryngeal cyst. When I typed in my symptoms on webMD, they said that I could possibly have a laryngeal cyst, a tonsil cyst, a submandibular cyst, or a parotid tumor!

All those sound kind of scary, so I'm really not sure which one I'm "hoping" it is. I really hate going to the doctor, so I've been putting it off, but I'm afraid I may have to just bite the bullet and go, since it really is quite sore.

Before I go though, what do you guys think could be going on?

By FirstViolin — On Nov 12, 2010

@Charlie89 -- I'm not sure how a doctor would tell the difference between a tonsil cyst and a tonsil infection, but here's what I would think they would look for.

The main symptoms of a tonsil cyst, according to the article, are pain swallowing and occasional bleeding. These differ quite considerably from most throat infections, which usually include a fever and more blister-like growths, rather than a big cyst.

Although the article does also say that the doctors usually take a biopsy -- so maybe you're right, maybe it is a hard diagnosis.

But if you're tonsils turn white, you're going to be going to the doctor anyway -- so what are you worried about?

By Charlie89 — On Nov 12, 2010

How can you tell the difference between a tonsil cyst and, say, a severe case of tonsilitis or strep throat? I mean, without doing a test.

Does a tonsil cyst show up differently than a normal tonsil infection or swollen tonsil, or do they usually appear the same?

I guess I'm just wondering about how doctors diagnose these things to begin with. I mean, with a nasal cyst or an ear cyst it's not like you've got a whole lot of other options when you see something up there, but with a tonsil cyst, it could easily be confused for something else.

So the next time my tonsils turn white, should I be worried about a tonsil cyst, or is it most likely just a case of strep?

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Our Editorial Team, made up of seasoned professionals, prioritizes accuracy and quality in every piece of content. With years of experience in journalism and publishing, we work diligently to deliver reliable and well-researched content to our readers.
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