Difference Between Tonsillitis and Strep Throat

The term ‘throat’ refers to the tube that is responsible for carrying food to our esophagus. It also carries oxygen to our larynx and windpipe.

Various problems are known to affect the threat some of which are very common. Many throat problems do not require medical attention and go away on their own.

Common throat problems include tonsilitis, laryngitis, etc.

Tonsillitis vs Strep Throat

The main difference between tonsilitis and strep throat is the cause of the two diseases. Tonsilitis is caused by a virus or bacteria. On the other hand, Strep throat is only caused by a bacterium known as group A Streptococcus, also called S. pyogenes. Viruses that cause it are influenza A, herpes simplex virus, Epstein-Barr virus, and rhinovirus.

Tonsillitis vs Strep Throat

Tonsilitis affects the tonsils or lymph nodes. Tonsils are that part of the body that protects it from diseases by producing white blood cells.

These cells prevent bacteria and viruses from entering the body.

This infection can occur in people of all ages. Being contagious, it can easily spread through coughing and sneezing.

Strep throat also affects the throat leading to pain and inflammation of the throat. This too is highly contagious and spreads through sneezing and coughing.

It is most common in school-going children that are exposed to a variety of viruses and bacteria. It is identified by doctors through a throat culture test that tests the presence of Streptococcus bacteria.

Comparison Table Between Tonsillitis and Strep Throat

Parameters of ComparisonTonsillitisStrep Throat
Causative agentCaused by viruses such as influenza A, herpes simplex virus, Epstein-Barr virus, etc and Streptococcus bacteriaCaused by Streptococcus bacteria
CausesInflammation of the tonsilsInfection in the throat
SymptomsVoice changes, stiff neck, and other symptomsBad breath, chills among other symptoms
Rheumatic feverDoes not cause rheumatic feverCan cause rheumatic fever
Reaction to antibioticsGenerally does not react; it is self-limitingResolved by antibiotics

What is Tonsilitis?

Tonsilitis is an inflammation of the tonsils. It is also known as sore throat as this is the main symptom.

Tonsils are oval-shaped and situated at the backside of our throat. They are largest in children and become smaller with age.

They act as the first line of defense against infection, though it is susceptible to infections as well. Some of the symptoms of tonsilitis are as follows:

  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Earaches
  • Difficulty in swallowing

Even though they can occur at all ages, it is most common in children as they are exposed to various bacteria and viruses when they go to school.

Children may also become irritable and refuse to eat. They may be caused by both bacteria and viruses and are contagious.

The bacteria causing tonsilitis is the same as for strep throat, so the doctor differentiates between the two infections by a rapid strep test.

A rapid viral nasopharyngeal swab test can also be done to check the presence of certain viruses. They cause discomfort but usually go away on their own.

Antibiotics do not work in this case.

Common measures that can be taken to fight tonsilitis are as follows:

  • Drinking a lot of fluids
  • Avoiding citrus fruits that irritate the throat
  • Drinking warm drinks
  • Gargling with saltwater
  • Avoiding smoke and irritants

What is Strep Throat?

Strep throat is an infection in the throat caused by Streptococcus bacteria. Symptoms are quite visible and they most affect children more than adults in the age group of five to fifteen.

They cause immense pain and have persisting symptoms. Common symptoms of this infection are as follows:

  • Headache
  • Vomiting or nausea in children
  • Chills and fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck.

It causes Scarlet fever evident as a bright red rash in people susceptible to the poisons of the bacteria S. pyrogenes.

When left untreated, it is known to cause scarlet fever in one out of ten children. It also leads to rheumatic fever in some cases.

This disease affects joints, the heart, the brain, and the skin. Some of the symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nose bleeds
  • Skin lumps
  • Fever

It is usually treated with several over-the-counter medications called antibiotics. Usually, penicillin or amoxicillin is used for treating this.

While tonsillitis goes away on its own, it is necessary to treat strep throat in the early stages otherwise serious complications may occur.

Home remedies for strep throat are almost the same as tonsilitis.

To prevent exposure to this infection, one should wash hands frequently and properly, avoid the sick, and not share utensils or cups with the sick among other preventive measures.

Main Differences Between Tonsillitis and Strep Throat

  1. Tonsillitis is caused by both Streptococcus bacteria and other viruses. On the other hand, Strep throat can be caused by exposure to group A Streptococcus bacteria.
  2. Tonsilitis leads to inflammation of the tonsils whereas strep throat is an infection in the throat.
  3. Common symptoms of tonsilitis include voice changes, stiff neck, etc. whereas for strep throat, it is bad breath, chills, etc.
  4. If not treated, tonsilitis usually goes away on its own. On the other hand, if strep throat is left untreated, complications such as rheumatic fever and scarlet fever.
  5. Antibiotics do not work on the viruses that cause tonsilitis whereas strep throat is mainly resolved by antibiotics.
Difference Between Tonsillitis and Strep Throat


Both tonsilitis and strep throat are infections that have a lot of symptoms in common. However, their treatment process is quite different from each other.

For the proper treatment of these infections, it becomes necessary to differentiate between the two kinds of infections.

As explained above, the causative agent of tonsilitis can be a bacterium or virus. Although, strep throat is only caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria.

They can be differentiated through various tests such as rapid strep test or/and viral nasopharyngeal swab test.


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