IS IT TONSILLITIS or STREP THROAT?

This is a very common question for parents of school age children. Parents wonder, is it time for antibiotics, or is this just a virus that has be waited out? Causes of a sore throat could be the result of anything from allergies to heartburn. But the two most common causes of throat pain are strep throat and tonsillitis. These two conditions have similar symptoms but are treated differently.

Tonsillitis is often caused by a virus, and antibiotics will not be effective against it. Strep throat is a bacterial infection that, if not treated, can cause serious problems. 

So how do you tell the difference between tonsillitis or strep throat? Only a doctor can make an accurate diagnosis, but here are some helpful guidelines.

Tonsillitis or Strep Throat

TONSILLITIS

The tonsils are small oval shaped pads of tissue located at the back of the throat. When these become inflamed, it can indicate tonsillitis.

Tonsillitis symptoms include:

  • Sore throat
  • Difficulty or painful swallowing
  • Swollen red tonsils
  • Fever
  • Scratchy voice
  • Headache
  • Enlarged or tender lymph nodes in the neck
  • No Rash
  • May include stuffy nose, runny nose or cough
If your child has continual problems with tonsillitis, your ear, nose and throat doctor may suggest removing the tonsils. Learn more about tonsillitis from the Mayo Clinic.

STREP THROAT

Strep throat is more severe than tonsillitis, and it’s caused by a specific strain of bacteria called Streptococcus. If untreated, it can damage the kidneys or turn into rheumatic fever, a disease that damages heart valves.

Strep throat symptoms include: 

  • Sore throat that can start very quickly
  • A fever greater than 101 degrees 
  • White patches on the throat
  • Swollen lymph glands in the neck
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the front of neck.
  • Tiny red spots (petechiae) on the roof of the mouth.
  • Pain and fever without a cough
  • Children with strep throat may have stomach pain and/or a headache. 
Your ENT physician can perform a simple test to determine whether it is strep throat. Learn more about strep throat from CDC.gov

WHEN TO SEE YOUR ENT DOCTOR

In general, a common cold can last between five to seven days. If a sore throat is severe or persists longer than seven days, be sure to speak with your doctor.

Additional signs that immediate medical help is needed:

  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Fever greater than 101 degrees 
  • Lump in the neck
  • Joint pain
  • Blood in the saliva  
  • Earaches
  • Rash
  • Extreme weakness or fatigue.

Over-the-counter pain relievers may be used to help ease symptoms of a sore throat when used in conjunction with throat sprays. 

Remember: Aspirin should NOT be given to young children because it can cause Reye’s syndrome. Reye’s syndrome is a serious disorder that can cause brain damage and death.

Protecting yourself and others

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing
  • Put used tissues in the trash
  • Cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands.
  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water for more than 20 seconds.
  • Use antibacterial alcohol-based hand cleaner if soap is not available.

The two most common causes of throat pain are strep throat and tonsillitis. These two conditions have similar symptoms but are treated differently.  Contact your ENT physician to have them perform a simple test to determine if it’s strep throat.

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