Is It Tonsillitis or Just a Sore Throat?

Woman with a sore throat on the couch concerned that it might be tonsillitis.

Everything from dry air to a cold to allergies or even tonsillitis can cause the extremely common symptom of a sore throat. The question is: How can you tell when it’s time to call us for an appointment or if you just need to turn your humidifier on?

There can be severe repercussions if you have tonsillitis and you ignore it. If you believe your sore throat might be caused by something more than allergies, it’s a good idea to make an appointment to get it checked out. Tonsillitis itself can have several causes.

Tonsillitis Symptoms

A sore throat is a pretty consistent symptom of tonsillitis but it doesn’t necessarily mean you have it. For most people, the confusion begins because a sore throat can be triggered by any number of problems, from the common cold to allergies to strep throat. When the tonsils become inflamed and infected this causes tonsillitis.

The symptoms of tonsillitis include:

  • Tonsils that are red and swollen (your doctor will be able to see this)
  • Fever
  • Tonsils covered by white or yellow patches
  • Pain or stiffness in the neck
  • Swollen lymph nodes, especially in the neck
  • Trouble or pain swallowing and bad breath
  • Stomach ache or headache
  • A sore throat

Because tonsillitis is not uncommon in children, it’s important to closely monitor how these symptoms may manifest in children. Kids frequently have difficulty articulating the nature of their symptoms and discomfort. Instead, tonsillitis will commonly present as refusal to eat or fussiness. Children may also drool more due to the pain connected with swallowing.

The Causes of Tonsillitis

If you’re asking yourself whether you have a sore throat or tonsillitis, the answer might be something like this: a sore throat… so far. That’s because some things that cause a sore throat can inevitably result in tonsillitis.

The story starts with the general function of your tonsils. When viruses and bacteria enter your body through your mouth, your tonsils are your body’s first line of defense. This filtering process means your tonsils are constantly exposed to germs. This can sometimes cause the tonsils to get infected.

Streptococcus pyogenes, the bacteria responsible for strep throat, is a common bacterial cause of tonsillitis. There are also several viruses that can cause tonsillitis. Practicing good hygiene is the best way to prevent tonsillitis. Regular hand-washing, for instance, will help control the spread of germs and, consequently, could reduce the development of tonsillitis.

When Should You Talk To Your Doctor For Tonsillitis?

Deciding when to call us, or when it would be better to wait it out, can be difficult because sometimes tonsillitis starts out with different symptoms. Most individuals looking in a bathroom mirror won’t be able to see swollen tonsils or white spots in their throat.

However, if you have a substantial number of symptoms, or if those symptoms persist, you should absolutely make an appointment.

A basic rule of thumb would be to come see us if have any of the following:

  • More than 2 days pass and your sore throat doesn’t get any better.
  • You have a fever with your sore throat.
  • You detect pain or discomfort while swallowing.

And, of course, if there’s any problem breathing, you should seek immediate emergency care.

You should also schedule an appointment if your child has been overly fussy, has been feeling week, or won’t eat.

Tonsillitis Treatment

Taking out the tonsils used to be a common treatment. Nowadays this procedure is usually only performed when other treatments have failed or when there are repeated infections and is typically considered a last resort.

Because both bacteria and viruses can cause tonsillitis, it will be essential to determine the appropriate treatment path. It isn’t uncommon for antibiotics to be prescribed.

Antibiotics don’t treat viruses effectively so if they are the cause of your tonsillitis, bed rest, fluids, and symptomatic therapies will be the best solution. Removing the tonsils might be considered if none of these therapies are effective.

Tonsillitis will require a medical diagnosis in order to begin effective treatment. So it’s important to determine the correct cause if your sore throat persists. Schedule an appointment with us so we can help you get to the bottom of it.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

Questions? Talk To Us.