Tonsillitis and strep throat are quite similar illnesses that affect the inside region of the throat and its surrounding tissue. Both conditions may also share some common symptoms including sore throat, headache, fatigue, and fever. However, tonsillitis is caused by group A Streptococcus bacterium, which is also responsible for strep throat, but one could also get tonsillitis from other bacteria and viruses.

Read on to understand the difference between tonsillitis and strep throat.
Woman with Tonsilitis

Tonsillitis And Strep Throat Definitions

Tonsillitis is an inflammation of the tonsils, two small, oval-shaped bumps located as one on either side of the throat. The tonsils are the lymphatic system that includes the immune system and help the body combat infections. The tonsils work to prevent germs from travelling further down the throat to the lungs. It is a potent function in children, as their immune systems are not completely developed.

Strep throat is also known as streptococcal pharyngitis is an inflammation of the throat caused due to the specific bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes.


Tonsillitis can be caused by several types of pathogens including viruses and bacteria. It’s most commonly caused by viruses such as:

  • Influenza
  • Coronavirus
  • Adenovirus
  • Epstein-Barr Virus
  • Herpes Simplex Virus
  • HIV

This condition is one symptom of these virus infections. Hence your healthcare provider will get certain blood works and monitor the symptoms closely to determine which virus is the root cause of tonsillitis. It can also be caused by bacteria and 15-30% of tonsillitis is caused by bacteria and most common infectious bacteria are group A Streptococcus, which cause strep throat. Some of the other species of strep bacteria that may cause tonsillitis as well, includes:

Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)

Chlamydia pneumoniae (chlamydia)

Neisseria gonorrhoeae (gonorrhoea)

However, strep throat is caused by a specific strain of group a Streptococcus bacterium and no other group of bacteria or virus can cause it.

Also Read: Strep Throat: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment


Tonsillitis and strep throat have many symptoms that are common, as strep throat is considered a type of tonsillitis. However, people with strep throat will also have additional distinct symptoms.

Symptoms Of Tonsillitis

Symptoms Of Strep Throat


Swollen, red tonsils, at times with regions of pus

Swollen, red tonsils, mostly with areas of pus

Sore throat

Sudden onset of sore throat

Swollen, tender lymph nodes

Swollen tender lymph nodes

Pain when swallowing

 Pain when swallowing

Mild to moderate fever

Higher temperature



Stiff neck

Body ache

Stomach upset

Nausea and vomiting


Not observed



In most severe cases, strep throat and tonsillitis can lead to the following complications:

Scarlet fever

Kidney inflammation

Rheumatic fever

Also Read: Throat Culture: Procedure, Risks And Results


The doctor will do a complete physical exam and enquire about the symptoms. During the physical assessment, the doctor will examine the throat for swollen lymph nodes and monitor the nose and ears for any signs of infection.

If the doctor suspects tonsillitis or strep throat, a throat swab sample is collected, and a rapid strep test is done to determine if the person is infected with strep bacteria. The results will be available within a few minutes and if a person test negative, further a throat culture test is done to determine the source of potential bacteria. These results usually take 24 hours.



Generally, doctors will prescribe antibiotics to treat tonsillitis infection caused by bacteria. Ensure to complete the course of antibiotics as instructed by your doctor.

Also taking antibiotics will lower your risk of infecting other people. In more serious eases, tonsils may be swollen and inflamed making it difficult to breathe. Where the doctor may prescribe steroids to decrease inflammation and if that doesn’t cure, then surgery called tonsillectomy is suggested.

Strep Throat

As strep throat is caused by bacteria, the doctor will recommend oral antibiotics within 48 hours of the illness. This will lessen the length and severity of symptoms, as well as lower complications and risk of infecting others. You can also try some simple and effective home remedies to control symptoms of inflamed tonsils and sore throats.

Home Remedies:

  • Get adequate rest
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Drink warm liquids like soup, tea, herbal drink and tea with lemon and honey
  • Gargle with warm saltwater
  • Chew on throat lozenges
  • Use a humidifier and improve the humidity in your home or office.