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Tonsillitis vs. Strep Throat: How Are They Different?

Coming down with a sore throat during cold and flu season isn't surprising. However, if you notice your throat is swollen and painful without the other respiratory symptoms that come along with a cold, it’s likely either strep throat or tonsillitis. 

The symptoms may be similar, but strep throat and tonsillitis have important differences. At Sheridan Ear, Nose & Throat in Sheridan, Wyoming, Dr. Scott N. Bateman specializes in patient-focused treatment of throat conditions

Let’s take a look at the factors that make tonsillitis different from strep throat, and vice versa.

Symptoms of tonsillitis

Unless you’ve had surgery to remove your tonsils, you’re susceptible to tonsillitis. This condition is usually caused by a virus such as influenza; however, bacteria can also infect your tonsils.

Along with a sore throat, tonsillitis can cause:

It’s most prevalent in children ages five to 15, but you can catch it at any age.

Symptoms of strep throat

Tender lymph nodes, sore throat, and painful swallowing are common between strep throat and tonsillitis, but watch for these additional symptoms if you suspect strep throat:

Strep throat is also known for the quick onset of its symptoms. You may feel fine in the morning, but a sore throat develops quickly and you could have difficulty swallowing by the early afternoon. Tonsillitis symptoms usually progress more gradually.

What treatments are recommended?

There’s no direct treatment for cases of tonsillitis caused by a virus, just like there isn’t for a cold or the flu. Dr. Bateman recommends the following at-home treatments to get your throat feeling like normal again:

These self-care tips can help you feel better with both bacterial tonsillitis and strep throat, but both also need additional medical care. 

Treating bacterial tonsillitis

If your tonsillitis is caused by a bacterial infection, Dr. Bateman will prescribe a course of antibiotics that can make you feel better in as little as 24 hours. Keep in mind, though, it’s important to finish the course of antibiotics as directed, even if you start to feel better before you’re done.

Tonsillectomy, or surgery to remove the tonsils, was once a common method of treating tonsillitis. Today, it’s only used in extreme cases that don’t respond to other treatments, or that interfere with breathing.

Treating strep throat

Since strep throat is also a bacterial infection, oral antibiotics are again the best course of action to wipe out the infection. Antibiotics also help to minimize the risk of passing your illness to other people.

When should you see a doctor?

When a case of bacterial tonsillitis or strep throat goes without treatment, the infection can spread and cause complications including scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, and kidney inflammation. It’s important to get on a course of antibiotics as soon as possible to avoid these complications and feel better quickly.

If you’re experiencing a sore throat that’s accompanied by a fever or that lasts longer than 48 hours, make an appointment at Sheridan Ear, Nose & Throat. Dr. Bateman can diagnose whether it’s tonsillitis or strep throat causing your sore throat and get you feeling better quickly.

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