Worried About Coughing up Tapioca Like Balls? Here’s All You Need to Know

We’ve all experienced some cough and cold now and then. So we’re used to the occasional runny nose and cough. But cough can be of different types. And if you notice that you’re coughing up weird things, then it certainly is a cause of worry.

One of those weird things could be coughing up tapioca like balls. The most common cause is tonsil stones. Aside from this, coughing up tapioca like balls can be due to a few other conditions.

We’ll be looking into this in detail today. So, if you’re coughing up tapioca like balls, then you’re in the right place.

Coughing Up Tapoica Like Balls: Most Common Cause?

As you’ve already read, tonsil stones are the most common cause of coughing up small stones. These stones can be of different sizes and shapes. They might even look like tapioca balls to you. So let’s take a look at this condition.

coughing-up-tapoica-like-balls

Tonsil Stones

The proper medical name for Tonsil stones is ‘tonsilloliths’. As the name suggests, stone-like structures are formed in the tonsils in this condition. Your tonsils are located at the back of your throat. If you open your mouth wide and look in the mirror, you’ll be able to see your tonsils They are at the very back on both sides of the mouth just behind the uvula. 

If you have tonsilloliths, then you might even notice some whitish spots on your tonsils. Another term that you may hear is ‘calculus’ which also means stone. This condition affects adults more than children.

Why Does It Occur?

Now you may be wondering how and why these stones appear in your tonsils. There’s usually a blockage and infection that is responsible for this process.

Your tonsils might look flat and plane using just your eyes. However, there are numerous inward folds on the surface of the tonsils. These folds go down deep into the mass of the tonsils from the surface. We call these tonsillar crypts.

Since these crypts are narrow, various materials can be trapped inside them. If these continue gathering up, they can become tonsil stones. However, as we’ve said, infection plays an important role.

Various bacteria or fungi can grow on these accumulated materials. Whenever there’s a blockage in any region of your body, bacteria can grow there. So, the tonsillar crypts are no different.

When these crypts are obstructed, bacteria can multiply. And at one point, these bacteria can form something called a biofilm. A biofilm is a thick layer formed by bacteria. It is mostly made up of mucous substances. However, it can be proteins or other substances too.

These biofilms make it harder for your body to kill these bacteria. And this accumulation of bacteria and other materials is what gives the tonsil stones their appearance.

tonsil-stone

Calcium and other minerals can deposit over these materials. This is what gives it a stone-like consistency.

Signs and Symptoms

So, what are the signs and symptoms if you are suffering from tonsilloliths? That depends on the severity of the disease and also if you have inflammation of the tonsils with it. Below are the most common signs and symptoms:

  • Asymptomatic: In many cases, you won’t notice any changes. You might discover this condition if you find yourself coughing up tapioca like pearls.
  • Bad breath: This is the most common symptom of tonsillolith. As you’ve read, bacteria and fungus are found in these tonsil stones. They can produce foul-smelling substances. And this can give you halitosis or bad breath.
  • Bad taste in your mouth: You might have a bad taste in your mouth. This happens due to the same reason as bad breath. The bacteria are responsible.
  • Small white stones: It is quite common to see small white stone-like substances if you have this disease. You can see these while looking inside your mouth in a mirror. You can also cough these tonsil stones out. In that case, you’ll notice coughing up tapioca pearls.
  • Pain, redness, and difficulty in swallowing: You may have redness and pain if your tonsils are inflamed. Your tonsils may even be swollen. This will narrow the throat. Thus this might cause some difficulty in swallowing. You might also feel some pain while swallowing.

How Do Doctors Find Out if You Have Tonsillolith?

The diagnosis of tonsillolith can be tricky sometimes. And as you’ve read, this condition is often asymptomatic. So, more often, this is an incidental finding on examination. It means that you’ve gone to the doctor for something else. While looking at your mouth, the doctor might find out that you have this condition.

If your tonsil stones are calcified, they may appear in imaging studies as well. The imaging studies include CT, MRI, and even X-ray. If your doctor suspects you might have this condition, then they can have you do these tests to confirm.

So, What to Do?

Now you may be wondering how this condition is treated? There may be a few things that can be done.

Observation: If they don’t cause any problem, then your doctor might decide to not do anything at all. With time, these stones will get out on their own. You can use mint or chewing gums to keep your breath fresh. You can also try regular gurgling with salt water or other oral antiseptics. This can help fasten the tonsillolith removal.

tonsillolith

Manual method and irrigators: It is not advisable to manually remove tonsil stones yourself. However, some have found success using soft cotton buds or just bare fingers. There are many manual pumps which can help with tonsil stone removal. But it is always best to try these under the supervision of a doctor.

Surgical approaches: Doctors may try several surgical options if the stones are too much of a bother. Larger stones can often by scraped off by curettage. Laser can also be helpful. And if all else fails, doctors may think of doing a tonsillectomy. It means that they’ll remove the entire tonsil.

At Home Remedies to Prevent Tonsil Stones

So, are there any steps that you can take to prevent tonsilloliths from happening. Here are a few things you can keep in mind:

  • Brushing your teeth regularly twice a day.
  • Using antiseptic mouthwash to rinse off your mouth.
  • Gargling using lukewarm salted water from time to time.

Other Conditions

There are some other conditions where you may cough up tapioca like balls. There are many disaeses where you may produce excessive sputum. And these can take a spherical shape which you may cough up. Some of these conditions are:

Chronic Bronchitis

This disease is one of the forms of COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. There’s obstruction of the airways due to excessive mucous production. This happens due to increase in the size and number of the mucous producing glands. This disease is mostly seen among smokers.

Pneumonia

In the simplest term, any infection of the lung is called pneumonia. It is most commonly due to bacteria. But it can be by virus, fungus, protozoa as well.

pneumonia-symptoms

When these harmful organisms cause damage to your lungs, your body responds. This response is through inflammation. The glands in the lungs produce more mucous.
The white blood cells also come out from the blood. They fight with the organisms and die in the process. So, the dead organisms and the dead body cells are mixed up with the excessive mucous. And you may cough up these mucous in the form of mucous balls.

Bronchiectasis

This is another disease where your body may produce excessive sputum. Here, the bronchi are enlarged as well. Bronchiectasis makes your lungs more prone to infection too.

chronic-bronchitis

Plastic Bronchitis or Cast Bronchitis

This is a rare condition which may be responsible for coughing up tapioca like balls. This disorder mainly affects the lymphatic system of your lungs. However, it may be due to surgeries as well. The lymphatic system is responsible for carrying away excess fluid and other materials away from the lungs.

If this lymphatic system is obstructed, there can be buildup of fluid and cells inside the airways. This buildup takes the shape of the airways. And so, they are called ‘casts’. These casts can sometimes break and become spherical shape. In that case, there may be coughing up tapioca like balls.

FAQs

Why do I cough up thick balls of mucus?
There is excessive mucus production in various lung diseases. So, if you’re suffering from these, you might cough up thick balls of mucus. These include chronic bronchitis, bronchiectasis, pneumonia, cystic fibrosis, etc.

Can you cough up pieces of lung?

No, you can’t cough up pieces of your lungs. You can only cough out if anything is inside the airways. However, you do cough out your dead cells which are inside your airways. There have been rare instances where people coughed up portion of your lungs. But, these are extremely rare, so you don’t have to worry.

What is the foul smelling white chunks in throat?

Those foul smelling white chunks at the back of your throat are tonsil stones. These are formed due to bacteria, fungus and other materials making a stone like mass. They may be mineralized to give a hard structure.

Final Thoughts

Coughing up tapioca like balls can be a reason of worry. However, you can rest assured. Because the most common cause is tonsilloliths which is normally not that serious. But it is always best to see a doctor just in case.

This can be due to some other lung diseases as well. But with proper treatment in proper time, you can be healthy again in no time.

Samin Ishmam

Samin Ishmam

I'm an aspiring medical student. Studying for tests is a huge part of my life right now, but I try to keep up with the latest innovations in science by reading research papers and attending conferences. My interests lie mainly in cardiology among other fields of medicine. And I love being able to help people get through the low points in their lives, which is why I've chosen this field as my profession. Outside of studies, I love writing and trying to spread knowledge on healthy living among everyone.

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