It is a cold, strep throat or tonsillitis?

Dr. Kimi Dart Brownwood ENT and Allergy

During cold weather, it’s not unusual to get a scratchy throat – and sometimes the surefire comforts of chicken soup, hot tea and a warm blanket don’t make a difference. When sore throat symptoms persist, you often wonder if it’s from a cold, strep throat, or tonsillitis. A sore throat can often simply be caused from the common cold – or it can be more serious, requiring antibiotics to make the nagging pain go away Dr. Kimi Dart of Brownwood ENT and Allergy wants to remind you that sometimes a surgical procedure is the only way to relieve that pain and is often necessary. Dr. Dart is Board Certified by American Osteopathic Board of Ophthalmology and Otorhinolaryngology.

Sore Throat

A sore throat can often be the first sign of a cold. In this case, your sore throat usually gets better or goes away after the first day or two and is often followed by other cold symptoms.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for a sore throat caused by a cold virus, but there are things you can do to minimize discomfort and get better more quickly. To speed healing of your sore throat and cold, be sure to get enough rest, and remember that a healthy diet and plenty of fluids also help to speed healing.

Although over-the-counter cold medications may relieve cold and sore throat symptoms, the benefits are minimal. Pain relievers, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, can offer relief from the aches and pains of a cold and sore throat. Sore throat sprays and lozenges can also soothe the throat and numb the pain temporarily.

Antibiotics should not be used to treat a cold virus and sore throat, since antibiotics are effective only against bacteria.

Strep Throat

Strep throat, which is caused by Streptococcus bacteria, is a major cause of sore throat and tonsillitis. With strep throat, the pain is often more persistent and severe. While a cold goes away on its own, strep throat usually requires antibiotics.

Strep throat spreads through close contact with an infected person and/or sharing an infected person's personal items. If not treated properly, strep throat can cause more serious illnesses, such as rheumatic fever, a disease that may harm the heart valves.

If you have symptoms of strep throat, visit your doctor for an examination and a strep test, a painless test that looks for Streptococcus bacteria. If you have clear signs of strep throat, your doctor will most likely start you on an antibiotic treatment in order to kill the bacteria causing the infection. With proper treatment, strep throat can usually be cured within 10 days.

If after 10 days you don’t feel any better, let your doctor know right away. Also, even if you feel better after a day or two, never stop taking the prescribed antibiotic until the full dosage is taken. The bacteria can still be alive, even if you are feeling better.

Other Tonsillitis

Sometimes, other bugs cause tonsillitis. If, like strep throat, the tonsillitis infection is bacterial, then antibiotics are given. However, if the tonsillitis infection is viral, antibiotics will not help. The virus will just need to run its course for the sore throat to go away.

Only with an exam by your doctor will you know whether your tonsillitis is caused by a virus or bacterium.

For either type of infection, be sure to get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids, use a vaporizer, and take over-the-counter pain relievers. Eating soft, soothing foods such as ice cream, milk shakes and soup will also make your throat feel better.

If the tonsil infection does not respond to antibiotics or occurs repeatedly – or if the tonsils interfere with sleep and breathing – your doctor may recommend a tonsillectomy, the surgical removal of the tonsils.

For any sore throat conditions, call your doctor if you experience nausea or vomiting, earache, headache, skin rash, painful joints, shortness of breath, dark urine or chest pain.