Tonsillitis vs. Strep Throat: What’s the Difference?

A doctor in a white lab coat is examining a young girl’s throat in an exam room using a tongue depressor.

Sore throats affect millions of people each year. Their cause can range from a simple inflammation due to allergies to a bacterial infection or an underlying health condition. 

Two of the most common causes of throat pain include strep throat and tonsillitis. 

While they exhibit some of the same symptoms, especially regarding unrelenting throat pain, inflammation, and discomfort, and are often used interchangeably to pinpoint throat discomfort, they’re caused by two completely different things. 

When it comes to diagnosis and treatment, tonsilitis vs. strep throat should be handled in different ways. 

If you or a loved one is experiencing sore throat pain of any kind, we encourage you to visit our urgent care facility to get to the bottom of your throat-related issue sooner, as it very well may be linked to strep throat or tonsillitis. 

Let’s dive deeper into understanding the difference between tonsillitis vs. strep throat below. 

What Is Tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is inflammation of the tonsils, the two small, oval-shaped tissue areas at the back of each side of your throat. 

The tonsils act as the first line of defense for the immune system against anything that enters the mouth, making them more vulnerable to infections and inflammation than other parts of the body. 

An important factor to consider is that the immune response of the tonsils declines after puberty, so many adults are less susceptible to tonsilitis. 

In most cases, tonsillitis is caused by a viral infection. However, in rarer instances, a bacterial infection may be to blame. When a bacterial infection is the cause, it is most likely caused by the same strain of bacteria as strep throat: Group A Streptococcus.

What Is a Strep Throat?

Strep throat is a type of sore throat caused by a bacterial infection in the throat and tonsils. 

Group A Streptococcus is the bacteria that causes strep throat. It is a group of bad bacteria that lives in the nose and throat.

Strep throat is contagious and spreads from person to person in semi-close contact by tiny respiratory droplets from talking, coughing, or sneezing.

Comparing Tonsillitis vs. Strep Throat Symptoms

The symptoms of tonsillitis vs. strep throat differ, with some common overlaps, such as generalized throat pain and tenderness.

One of the best ways to tell the difference between tonsillitis vs. strep throat is to take note of the symptoms you or a loved one are experiencing. 

Tonsillitis symptoms include

  • Fever
  • Throat pain
  • Lymph node swelling
  • Coughing
  • Headache
  • Earache
  • Fatigue
  • Loss or changes to the voice

In younger children, tonsillitis may manifest as

  • Excessive drooling
  • Refusal to eat or drink
  • Extended periods of fussiness

Symptoms of strep throat include

  • Sore throat 
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Red and swollen tonsils
  • Fever
  • White patches or streaks of pus on the back of the mouth or tonsils
  • Tiny, red spots on the roof of the mouth
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Other symptoms, especially in children, may include

  • Headache
  • Abdominal pain 
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Scarlet fever 

Tonsillitis vs. Strep Throat Diagnosis and Treatment 

A physical exam is the best first step in diagnosing tonsillitis and strep throat. 

A throat swab and culture examination may be necessary for full diagnosis if it is believed that your sore throat or tonsilitis may be caused by strep A bacteria. 

Strep throat and tonsillitis caused by Strep A bacteria require antibiotics such as penicillin or amoxicillin for proper healing. 

Viral instances of tonsilitis do not require medication, and symptoms can be treated at home with over-the-counter pain relievers and throat relief drops, sprays, and medicine. 

Rapid and Effective Throat Care in Houma

If you or a loved one is experiencing swollen tonsils, white spots in your throat, or a painful sore throat accompanied by fever, you should visit our urgent care center today for further evaluation.

Our experienced and compassionate team at Thibodaux Regional Urgent Care in Houma is available seven days a week with no appointments necessary. 

Simply walk in to get the care you need for your throat, cold, flu, or fever today.

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