White spots on the back of the throat are a fairly common occurrence. They can be either acute (rapidly appearing or lasting a short amount of time) or chronic (slowly developing and lasting longer than a few days). It can be disconcerting, but luckily these spots are not usually a sign of severe disease. There are a few different causes, some of which require medical intervention. Bacterial, viral, and fungal infections can all cause white patches on the throat. Trauma, malignancy, exposure to chemical irritants, and chronic tobacco smoking can also cause the condition.
What are Causes Exactly
These white spots may be due to a variety of causes; the most common causes include infectious mononucleosis (“the kissing disease”), strep throat, tonsillitis, strep throat, unprotected oral sexual activity or others.
Viral and Fungal Infections
Viral and fungal infections on the throat are less common but can also lead to this condition. Common viral infections include the herpes simplex virus, the Epstein-Barr virus (the most common cause of mononucleosis), the cytomegalovirus, adenoviruses, and the measles virus. Viral infections are usually self-limiting and require only palliative (symptomatic) treatment. Antibiotics don’t work against viruses and therefore will be of no use.
The most common fungal infection that can cause the white spots on back of throat is a condition called thrush. It is an infection with the fungus candida albicans, yields cottage-cheese like, creamy lesions on the back of the throat. Anyone can contract thrush, but it is found most commonly in babies, people who wear dentures, people on certain steroid therapies, and those with compromised immune systems (HIV patients for example). Fungal infections of the throat usually require medication to clear up.
Thrush can be also caused by prolonged use of antibiotics or other drugs such as prednisone or inhaled corticosteroids which may throw off the body’s natural chemical balance. After using your inhaler, rinse your mouth out and brush your teeth. This discourages colonization of fungi.
Thrush may also be caused by unprotected oral sexual activity with an infected partner. According to the Mayo Clinic, consuming unsweetened yogurt or acidophilus capsules or liquid may help lessen your infection. These supplements do not necessarily destroy the fungus, but they restore your body’s natural bacterial fauna, which is part of your body’s defense against such infections.
Infectious mononucleosis, also known as “kissing disease”, a member of group A streptococci bacteria, may result in white streaks or lesions on the back of your throat. S. pyrogenes is an airborne bacterium, and thus it is contagious. Droplets may be spread through sneezing, coughing, or sharing utensils or glasses. Think about that the next time your friend offers you a sip of their martini.
If you contract strep throat, go to see your doctor. They will most likely offer you antibiotics. Use OTC Cloraseptic spray to numb your sore throat, or drink some hot peppermint or lemon tea with honey. Honey, mint, eucalyptus, and lemon are all natural remedies that help soothe symptoms of strep and other throat infections.
Bacterial infections can cause the appearance of white spots in your throat. Strep throat, bacterial tonsillitis, and to a lesser degree, sexually transmitted diseases (such as syphilis) are the most common sources that will cause your throat infection. All three conditions will not resolve themselves and require medical intervention. If they are accompanied by symptoms such as sore throat, painful or difficulty swallowing, fever, swollen neck glands, difficulty breathing, or a persistent cough (whether it produces sputum or not), the individual should seek medical treatment. The primary complications that can ensue after or during a bacterial infection of the throat include (but are not limited to): Rheumatic fever (a possible complication of strep throat), septicemia (a life threatening blood infection), impaired breathing, and sudden swelling of the throat or tongue.
Tonsillitis is defined by the Mayo Clinic as inflammation of the tonsils, two small oval glands at the back of the throat. The tonsils function as the body’s first line of immunity, filtering out bacteria and microbes from the body. However, occasionally the tonsils may become overwhelmed in the presence of streptococcal bacteria or other common microbes, and subsequently become inflamed.
Other symptoms of Tonsillitis include difficulty swallowing, ear pain, fever, chills, headache, sore throat, tenderness of jaw and throat, and loss of voice. Treatment for tonsillitis includes antibiotics, lots of cold fluids and popsicles, and anti-inflammatory medication, such as Tylenol or Ibuprofen, for pain. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary.
Trauma to the tissues of the throat (such as swallowing a small fish bone) can cause white spots to appear too. This is usually due to a localized infection that has set up at the site of the trauma. Any trauma to the throat should be evaluated by a physician, as the secondary infection may require antibiotic therapy.
Leukoplakia is a term that refers to a pre-cancerous condition. The appearance of white spots will be both subtle and gradual. As this may represent a harbinger of something of a more serious nature in the future, it should be evaluated by a medical professional. Despite the fact that the exact cause of leukoplakia is unknown, tobacco use (regardless of which type) is thought to be the primary culprit in its development.
Chemical irritants (such as those in a work place environment) can also cause these spots on throat. Once all other causes have been eliminated, the avoidance or elimination of those chemical irritants is the obvious treatment of choice.
Another cause is called tonsiloliths. Tonsiloliths (tonsil stones or crypt plugs) are aggregates of white blood cells, dead tissue cells, bacteria, and miniscule food particles that collect in the tissue folds (crypts) of the tonsils. After a period of time, the body surrounds them and covers them with calcium. While they can cause halitosis (bad breath) and even tonsillitis, they are not a disease state. If they are severe enough or cause enough discomfort for the patient, an elective tonsillectomy can be performed to eliminate the crypts (tissue folds) where the material collects.
How to Prevent
To avoid contracting these infections, be proactive. The key to avoiding these diseases may be simple hygiene prevention. Washing your hands goes a long way in keeping you free of communicable disease. When you wash your hands, sing the birthday song twice to time yourself; this way you are washing your hands for at least twenty seconds. Also, avoid drinking and eating after friends and family. Do not share glasses, silverware, or lip balm. Do not share make-up with your friends. Wash your hands frequently.