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Strep Throat vs. Tonsillitis: How to Tell the Difference & How to Treat It

If your throat hurts or looks swollen, there’s a chance you have strep throat or tonsilitis. Discover the differences in symptoms for strep throat vs. tonsillitis

Strep Throat: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Bacterial and viral infections are common in the winter months as people gather in large groups indoors. Strep throat is a bacterial infection that can make your throat sore and scratchy. Symptoms include sudden onset of throat pain, red and swollen tonsils, swollen and tender neck lymph nodes, painful swallowing, fever, headache, abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting, body aches, and rashes. Sometimes you’ll notice white patches or streaks of pus on the tonsils with strep throat.

Strep throat is spread through droplets from an infected person’s sneezes or coughs, through sharing food and drink, or through bacteria living on doorknobs and other surfaces. The Mayo Clinic says younger kids are most at risk for strep throat.

The symptoms of the illness are similar to other infections, so you should see a healthcare provider to get tested if you’re experiencing these signs. A rapid strep test is performed by swabbing the back of the throat and tonsils. The provider will most likely prescribe antibiotics once you’re diagnosed with strep throat.

Tonsilitis: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Determining if you have a sore throat vs. tonsilitis can be challenging as the symptoms are very similar. Tonsilitis includes a sore throat, red and swollen tonsils, swollen and tender lymph nodes in the neck, painful swallowing, fever, and headache, all the same as strep throat. But tonsilitis also includes runny nose, postnasal drip, a cough, and bad breath as symptoms too. There can also become a white or yellow coating or patches on the tonsils. For young children who can’t describe how they feel, the Mayo Clinic says you’ll notice drooling due to difficult or painful swallowing, refusal to eat, or unusual fussiness.

A viral infection such as the common flu or cold is to blame for most cases of tonsilitis. Still, bacterial infections can also be the culprit sometimes. This bacterium is most commonly found in kids ages 5 to 15, putting them at higher risk than adults. School-aged children are also in close contact with peers and frequently exposed to tonsilitis-causing viruses or bacteria, putting them at higher risk of contracting the illness. However, people of all ages can still be affected by the infection.

Treatment of tonsillitis vs. strep throat is similar in most cases. If a bacterial infection causes it, providers prescribe the same strep throat antibiotics. As for viral tonsilitis, antibiotics won’t help. Instead, the Cleveland Clinic recommends plenty of rest, fluids to stay hydrated, throat lozenges, and over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. In most cases, the symptoms will disappear in three to four days. If they last longer, see a provider.

Tonsil Stones: What Are They?

If you’ve had inflamed or infected tonsils for a long time, you can sometimes develop tonsil stones. These are hard, calcified bits of bacteria and tiny scraps of food that get lodged in the pits and folds of your tonsils. These calcified bits are usually creamy yellow and are foul-smelling.

One main symptom of tonsil stones is the bad breath that comes from them. Other symptoms include gagging, a sore throat, an irritable cough, an earache, and an unpleasant taste.

To remove the tonsil stones and to keep them from forming vigorously, gargle warm salty water or mouthwash, use a low-pressure water flosser, or gently remove the stones with a moist cotton swab.

Is it Just a Sore Throat?

Think you have a sore throat vs. tonsilitis or strep throat? A viral sore throat typically comes with other cold-like symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, running nose, and a hoarse or raspy voice. A sore throat will usually go away as cold symptoms lessen. Also, not running a fever indicates that it’s a sore throat and not a bacterial infection. If you’re unsure, visit a healthcare provider.

Find Help at an AFC

You’ll need to see a healthcare provider to determine whether it’s strep throat vs. tonsilitis. Heading to an urgent care is a great option to find a quick answer. No need to call and make an appointment at American Family Care. We aim to get you quickly roomed. Our locations are equipped to perform rapid strep tests, so we can get the answer and send you on with the treatment you need. Find an AFC location near you to start the process of feeling better.

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