Difference Between Strep Throat and Tonsillitis

When you go to a doctor complaining of a sore throat he might say that you have strep throat or that you have tonsillitis. If you are a non-medical person, you might not know the difference between these two. At the onset, it is important to emphasize that there are subtle differences between the two terms despite strep throat is a type of tonsillitis. This article describes the clinical features, symptoms, causes, investigation and diagnosis, treatment methods, and prognosis of strep throat and tonsillitis, and finally summarizes the differences between strep throat and tonsillitis if there are any.


Tonsillitis is inflammation of tonsils. Tonsils are lumps on either side of the throat which are collections of lymphoid tissues. Anatomy of the tonsils is simple. It has an outer fibrous capsule which surrounds a collection of lymphoid follicles. There are four types of tonsils in humans. They are adenoids (pharyngeal tonsils), tubal tonsils, palatine tonsils, and lingual tonsils. Adenoids are located on the roof of the throat and are incompletely encapsulated. It does not have crypts. Tubal tonsils are also located on the roof of the throat. Palatine tonsils are located on either side of the throat. They are incompletely encapsulated and contain long, branching crypts on them. Lingual tonsils are located behind the tongue. They are also incompletely encapsulated, and the crypts on the surface do not branch. The lining of the tonsils differs from site to site. Underneath the capsule, there are numerous lymphoid follicles that contain T and B lymphocytes arranged in a distinct pattern. Lymph vessels draining the area around the mouth travel to tonsils. Therefore, an infection in this area will inflame the tonsils. Tonsils are supplied by nearby arteries. Inflammation of tonsils is a very common condition. It may be viral or bacterial. The patient shows symptoms of sore throat, painful swallowing, fever and ill health.

Tonsillitis can get complicated with peri tonsillar abscess formation and tonsillolith formation. Bacterial tonsillitis can have secondary complication involving the kidneys, heart, joints, skin, and central nervous system. Examination of the throat is almost always enough to make a diagnosis. While empirically antibiotics can be prescribed, it is always better getting a throat swab for culture and antibiotic sensitivity testing. Ancillary investigations like full blood count, ESR and CRP, ASOT, Anti DNAse B titer may be done as needed. Non-Steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, acetaminophen, and antibiotics make up the treatment regimen. Follow up is necessary and chronic, recurrent or severe tonsillitis may need tonsillectomy.

Also, read the Difference Between Viral and Bacterial Tonsillitis

Strep Throat

Streptococcus pneumonia is the commonest bacteria which causes respiratory tract infections. Streptococcus infection of the throat is called strep throat. The clinically significant tonsillitis is caused by Lancefield group A streptococci. The symptoms and signs of strep throat are similar to other bacterial tonsillitis. The patients present with painful swallowing, sore throat, fever, red swollen tonsils upon examination and ill health. Throat swab is essential. Antibiotics should be prescribed and continued for the full duration. Partial treatment increases the chance of recurrences and post streptococcal complications. After a streptococcal sore throat proper follow up essential due to the risk of developing post streptococcal glomerulonephritis and Rheumatic fever.

What is the difference Between Strep Throat and Tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is the inflammation of tonsils while strep throat is an example of bacterial tonsillitis.


Read more:

1. Difference Between Staphylococcus and Streptococcus 

2. Difference Between Mononucleosis and Strep Throat 

3. Difference Between Viral and Bacterial Pneumonia 

4. Difference Between Obstructive and Restrictive Lung Disease