Tonsillitis vs Strep Throat


Apr 16, 2018


Your child is your everything, and when they come down with an illness, you want to treat them as soon as possible so they can get back to being a happy, healthy kid again. Unfortunately, many parents unknowingly treat the wrong illness. Strep throat is a common concern among parents due to its contagiousness, but this hyper-vigilance may be causing you to misdiagnose your child with strep when they may actually have tonsillitis. How, then, can you know which sickness they have and how to treat it the next time they complain of a sore throat?

Strep Throat

Strep throat is often used as a catch-all for infections of the throat, but what makes strep strep is the Streptococcus bacteria that causes the infection. Contrary to popular belief, strep throat actually constitutes a small percentage of all sore throat complaints, though it is intensely contagious and more common among children.

Strep Throat Symptoms

Strep throat comes with a host of symptoms that are common among other infections, so it may be difficult to tell if your child has strep or something else. Strep symptoms include:

  • Soreness or pain
  • Difficult or painful swallowing
  • Inflamed or swollen tonsils
  • White spots or streaks of pus
  • Red spots on the soft palate and back of the throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • High fever
  • Aches and pains
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Rashes
  • Headache

Diagnosing Strep Throat

The only way to definitively determine if your child has strep throat is to visit a doctor for a diagnosis.

Strep Throat Treatment

Treatment of strep throat is usually extremely straightforward. Once your child has been diagnosed, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic to reduce the length and severity of the infection. It usually takes no more than a day or two before your child’s symptoms begin to subside, but they should always finish their antibiotics, even if their symptoms are gone. Children can return to school about one day after beginning treatment.

If symptoms aren’t being managed by the antibiotics, you can offer them over-the-counter pain relievers to dull aching and throat pain.


Tonsils are often mislabeled as unnecessary parts of the body because so many people have their tonsils removed early on in life. However, tonsils actually have an important purpose: Ensuring your lungs and airway aren’t infected by germs and bacteria. Tonsils absorb and dispose of bacteria that could cause you harm, acting like a filtration system to ensure you can always breathe comfortably. Sometimes, though, tonsils cannot handle the bacteria or viruses they absorb and become infected themselves, leading to tonsillitis.

Tonsillitis Causes

Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils. It’s commonly caused by a strain of Streptococcus bacteria, but can also be caused by a variety of other germs, such as:

  • Influenza virus
  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • Enterovirus
  • Herpes simplex virus
  • Parainfluenza virus
  • Adenovirus

Although tonsillitis is often caused by strep bacteria, it isn’t always strep throat, which may cause confusion. Strep throat can actually be considered a type of tonsillitis rather than an entirely unique sickness.

Tonsillitis Symptoms

Tonsillitis symptoms are very similar to those of strep throat, but with a few differences.

  • Swollen, tender lymph nodes
  • Headache
  • Nausea or upset stomach
  • White or yellow discoloration of the tonsils
  • Stiffness or pain in the neck and shoulders
  • Difficult or painful swallowing
  • Sore throat
  • Inflamed or swollen tonsils
  • Low fever
  • Ear pain
  • Bad breath
  • Loss of appetite
  • Blisters or ulcers in the throat

Diagnosing Tonsillitis

As with strep throat, diagnosis can only be determined by a doctor.

Tonsillitis Treatment

Once diagnosed, treatment is very similar to strep throat – that is, your child will be placed on antivirals or antibiotics, depending on the type of tonsillitis. If the tonsils are too swollen for your child to function, your doctor may prescribe steroids as well.

You can also help manage your child’s symptoms with over-the-counter medications such as pain relievers, fever reducers or benzocaine to dull the throat pain.

If your child experiences many incidences of tonsillitis throughout childhood, your doctor may recommend a tonsillectomy – surgical removal of the tonsils.

Keep Your Little Ones Healthy With Complete Care

Keeping your children healthy can be quite the chore, especially when they spend so much of their lives surrounded by other kids who may not have the best hygiene habits.

Luckily, if your little one does get sick with strep throat, tonsillitis or the flu, you can trust Complete Care to provide comprehensive diagnosis and treatment for whatever ails them. You’ll never have to wait for hours at a Complete Care urgent care or emergency room. We ensure all our patients are seen quickly so they can get in, get out and get back to feeling better.

Browse our locations page to find your nearest Complete Care branch today.