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What to Do if You Have Canker Sores on Your Tonsils

canker sore on tonsil

Canker sores are a pain (literally!), but they’re usually easy to manage with over-the-counter treatments and DIY remedies. 


That is, unless a canker sore appears on your tonsils. The development of a canker sore on the tonsil is rare but very painful. It’s important to understand the signs and symptoms of these aggressive ulcers so that you can treat them properly.

Can Canker Sores Really Appear on the Tonsils?

When canker sores develop on the tonsils or in the back of the throat, they display distinct red edges and a yellow, gray, or white center. The pain caused by a canker sore in the throat is so severe that it’s often mistaken for strep throat or tonsillitis. 


Not sure if your sore throat is the result of a canker sore, allergies, or something else entirely? Try examining your throat and tonsils with a mirror and a flashlight. If a canker sore is present, it’ll look like a small, single sore. 

Common Causes of Canker Sores

There’s no definitive cause of canker sores. However, many contributing factors are believed to trigger canker sores more frequently. The most common canker sore triggers include:

  • NSAIDs (Motrin®, Aleve®)
  • Vitamin deficiencies (low vitamin B12 or iron)
  • Foods high in citric acid, such as oranges, tomatoes, and some cheeses
  • Underlying autoimmune conditions (HIV/AIDS, Lupus, Behcet's disease)
  • Chronic high stress or a traumatic life event
  • A family history of canker sore outbreaks
  • Viral infections or bacteria in the mouth (H Pylori infection)


Teens and young adults are more prone to frequent canker sore outbreaks than others, but this condition plagues males and females of all ages. 

canker sore on tonsil

Cold Sores May Appear in the Throat, Too

Canker sores aren’t the only ulcers that may appear in your throat. A specific virus known as herpes esophagitis can also develop in the esophagus, which carries food and liquid from the mouth to the stomach. 


All forms of esophagitis involve inflammation and irritation of the esophagus. The most common type of esophagitis is caused by acid reflux, but it can also be activated by forms of the herpes virus such as HSV-1 or HSV-2. When the herpes virus infects the esophagus region, it’s known as herpes esophagitis.


The majority of people who develop herpes esophagitis have a weakened immune system that is more vulnerable to viral infection. In particular, your risk of herpes esophagitis increases if you have health complications such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, and long-term antibiotic use. 


Herpes esophagitis can be transmitted through an existing HSV-1 or HSV-2 infection. HSV-1, best known for causing cold sores, is the predominant cause of herpes esophagitis. Mouth-to-mouth contact easily passes the herpes virus through saliva and may trigger inflammation and infection in the throat. 


It’s also possible to develop herpes esophagitis through the transmission of HSV-2, known for causing genital herpes. Engaging in oral sex with someone in the midst of a genital herpes outbreak may lead to this throat infection. 

Canker Sores vs. Mouth Ulcers

Mouth ulcers and canker sores are often used interchangeably to describe the same irritating ulcers in the mouth. It’s true that the two conditions are nearly indistinguishable, but they develop from different underlying triggers. 


A mouth ulcer is a small lesion in the mouth that may develop on the lips, gums, tongue, or cheeks. They’re so common that nearly every adult experiences and recovers from a mouth ulcer at some point in his life. Most mouth ulcers are caused by the herpes virus or trauma to the mouth. 


Canker sores, on the other hand, are caused by an underlying condition known as Aphthous Stomatitis. They’re non-viral ulcers unrelated to oral herpes. Canker sores resemble pink craters with a soft white border. 

Tonsil Canker Sores vs. Oral Cancer

Discovering any type of unusual growth or sore in your throat can be unnerving, so it’s important to know the differences between a canker sore on the tonsil and oral cancer. 


Aside from the pain they cause, tonsil canker sores are harmless. They most often develop in a round shape with a depressed center that is white, grey, or yellow in color. The outer rim of a canker sore is usually red. 


However, mouth cancer can emerge in the form of an ulcer, so if your tonsil canker sore doesn’t heal within a few weeks, be sure to see a doctor or dentist with your concern. Oral cancer may appear anywhere in your mouth in the following ways:

  • A flat white or red patch on your tongue, gums, tonsils, or lining of the mouth
  • Mixed red and white patches that last more than two weeks
  • Bright red patches that feel velvety
  • White or gray patches inside the mouth that grow over weeks or months

How to Treat and Prevent Canker Sores on the Tonsils

Canker sores trigger painful and uncomfortable symptoms, especially on the tonsils. Fortunately, you don’t need to ensure the full misery of these symptoms. With the right treatment and prevention techniques, you can directly tackle your worst symptoms and make those canker sores disappear. 

  • Hydrogen Peroxide Gargles 
  • Benzocaine lozenges
  • Warm salt water gargle
  • Anaesthetic sprays
  • Povidone iodine gargles

Silver Nitrate Canker Sores Treatment

Silver nitrate is a natural chemical compound that’s been used since the 13th century for its antimicrobial properties. As soon as silver nitrate is activated by contact with moisture, it delivers free silver ions to wounded tissue. This reaction binds the tissue and obstructs blood vessels, which cauterizes active wounds and reduces the pain they cause. 


Overall, research shows that treating canker sores with silver nitrate is a simple and affordable way to decrease the pain caused by ulcers, though the healing time remains about the same. 

Hydrogen Peroxide Canker Sores Treatment

Hydrogen peroxide offers an easy way to reduce bacteria in the mouth and support canker sore healing. Just be sure to dilute your hydrogen peroxide and apply it properly to your sores:

  • Dilute 3 percent hydrogen peroxide with equal parts water
  • Dip a cotton ball or Q-Tip into the mixture
  • Apply directly to your canker sores two to three times per day


To cover a large area of the mouth, you can even use diluted hydrogen peroxide as a mouth rinse. Simply swish for a minute and spit it out. 

Antimicrobial Rinse

Your dentist or doctor may also prescribe an antimicrobial rinse if you’re susceptible to canker sores. Listerine, Peridex, and Periogard are all popular options. They reduce the number of bacteria and microbes in the mouth, which can protect the gum tissue from canker sores in the future.

Milk of Magnesia with Liquid Antihistamine

Milk of magnesia, best known by the brand name Maalox®, can be blended with Benadryl® or another antihistamine to alleviate the pain caused by your canker sore. Milk of magnesia is an antacid that coats your canker sore to prevent irritation, while antihistamines treat inflammation symptoms and create a sedative effect. If your canker sore is uncomfortable and prevents you from sleeping, this combination is a helpful solution.

Treatment With Light: The Luminance RED

Canker sores can cause weeks of discomfort during and after the healing process, even with the help of home remedies. Treatment with high-powered, medically optimized light is a gentler, safer, and more reliable way to alleviate even your worst canker sores. 


Research proves the profound effects of high-powered light for canker sore prevention and treatment. Many studies show that applying medically optimized light to canker sores significantly reduces pain. In one study, the group that received treatment immediately experienced a 92% reduction in pain versus a 1% reduction in the placebo group.


The Luminance RED Mouth Treatment Device is a breakthrough, handheld class II medical device designed to help you manage sores and ulcers inside the mouth or on the tonsils. This device makes it easy to shine concentrated wavelengths of pain-free, medically optimized light directly onto canker sores and the areas where they often develop.

Whether you need to treat existing canker sores or prevent future canker sore outbreaks before they start, the Luminance RED makes it possible.

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