How to Identify if it’s a Sore Throat or Symptoms of Tonsillitis

Posted: Thursday, December 20, 2018


When it comes to sore throat, strep throat, and tonsillitis, information can get tangled up pretty quickly, creating added stress for parents, guardians, and caregivers. In this post, we untangle things in the hopes of providing you with a clearer understanding of what’s going on with your child and when you may want to seek out the help of an ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT).

Sore Throat

Think of a sore throat as the lowest level symptom. A sore throat can be just a sore throat, or it can be a symptom of something more serious like strep throat or tonsillitis. For small children, a viral infection is typically to blame for a sore throat. This is different from strep throat, which is caused by a bacterium. We’ll delve into the distinction a little more below. But the most important thing to know in the case of a sore throat is that antibiotics cannot be used to treat a virus.

This can be particularly disconcerting when your child is in pain and you’re hoping for something to provide them with relief. Unfortunately, there is no antibiotic to treat the virus itself. One other important fact: viral sore throat is often accompanied by a cold, so your child may have a mild fever to go with their sore throat.

Strep Throat

As we said above, strep throat is caused by a bacterium, specifically Streptococcus pyogenes, known alternatively as group A Streptococcus. In addition to a sore throat, infants and toddlers who come down with strep throat will typically exhibit a thick or bloody nasal discharge, as well as a mild fever. For toddlers and children over three, it’s common for glands in the neck to become swollen. Children will typically experience more severe symptoms than infants or toddlers, including fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit, extreme throat pain, and even pus on the tonsils.

Luckily, antibiotics can be used to treat strep throat when it’s diagnosed in time. If your child’s sore throat is accompanied by a fever of 101 degrees or higher, and these symptoms don’t go away after one or two days, it’s a good idea to bring your child in to see a doctor. Extremely swollen glands, difficulty swallowing or breathing, a stiff neck, or the appearance of a red rash are additional reasons to head to the doctor’s office.


Tonsillitis simply refers to swollen tonsils. So if your child’s tonsils are swollen, they have tonsillitis. Rather than existing as something separate from strep throat, in actuality, strep throat is a form of tonsillitis. This may come as a surprise, as many folks understand tonsillitis to be something that requires the removal of the tonsils. In actuality, this is only required in the most severe of cases. Your doctor will determine whether this procedure is necessary.

Schedule an Appointment with a Specialist

If you notice that your child frequently suffers from a sore throat, it could be the result of allergy-induced postnasal drip. If you suspect this might be the case, you may want to make an appointment with the allergy specialist or an ear, nose, and throat specialist here at DeKalb Health.