A sore throat is never fun. When it strikes, you want to know whether it’s just the beginning of a cold that will go away on its own or something that needs medical attention. Find out how to tell the difference and how to get relief.
The Difference Between a Cold, Strep Throat, and Tonsillitis
A Cold: In the beginning of a cold, excess mucus running down the back of the sinuses can irritate the throat and make it sore. This type of viral sore throat is usually followed by a runny nose, sneezing and congestion. Since it’s a virus, it will go away on its own without antibiotics.
Strep throat: If your sore throat comes on suddenly and is severe, accompanied by a fever and red dots on the back roof of your mouth, it’s possible you have strep. You may also notice red swollen tonsil with white patches. Strep throat is an infection caused by streptococcus bacteria, so it needs to be treated with antibiotics. You can suspect strep throat if you don’t have other cold symptoms.
Tonsillitis: Painful, inflamed tonsils can sometimes indicate tonsillitis, which is an infection of the tonsils themselves. This can be viral or bacterial, so it can be hard to tell what the best treatment plan is.
Why It’s Important to Treat Strep Throat
Not only can painful swallowing from strep keep you from eating and drinking, it is also very contagious and can lead to rheumatic fever if not treated. Your doctor can diagnose strep throat by performing a rapid strep test to check for the presence of strep bacteria. If the test is positive, antibiotics such as Penicillin will clear it up within 10 days.
How Tonsillitis Differs from a Cold or Strep Throat
While a sore throat from a cold is caused by irritating mucus, and a sore throat from strep is caused by bacteria on the tonsils and throat, tonsillitis is different because the tonsils themselves are infected. Tonsillitis is suspected if you have bright red tonsils, swollen lymph glands in the neck, a fever, painful swallowing and bad breath. Antibiotics may be given if it’s bacterial, but if it’s just a virus, it will have to run its course.
Sometimes despite treatment, tonsillitis infections occur repeatedly and interfere with breathing and sleeping. Tonsillitis that keeps coming back may require a tonsillectomy, which is surgical removal of the tonsils.
How to Relieve Your Sore Throat
Whether you have a viral sore throat that will go away on its own or you need to wait for antibiotics to kick in, you’ll need find ways to make swallowing more comfortable. Try these methods for relieving your pain:
- Drink warm liquids like tea or broth
- Gargle with warm salt water
- Suck on ice chips
- Use numbing sprays and lozenges
- Take Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen (never give aspirin to children)
Sound Health Physicians Treat Strep Throat and Tonsillitis
Since it’s hard for patients to tell whether they have a viral sore throat or an infection, it’s important to see a doctor for a proper diagnosis. Our ENT physicians know the differences between colds, strep throat and tonsillitis, and can provide appropriate treatment plans so you can get relief. Call us at (314) 729-0077 in Missouri or (618) 235-3687 in Illinois.