What is the
difference between a sore throat, tonsillitis, strep throat, bacterial and viral
Tonsillitis: When tonsils are infected with bacteria, they
will usually get large, turn somewhat red, and may have some yellowish-white
debris of the surface. This will cause a sore throat.
There are some viruses, which can cause tonsillitis (as in infectious
mononucleosis). The only way to be sure
whether you have a bacterial or a viral infection is by doing a throat culture,
although there are other tests, which may suggest a bacterial infection.
Obstruction of the airway by enlarged tonsils can lead to difficulties
in breathing, snoring and disturbed sleep that leads to daytime
sleepiness in adults and behavioral problems in children. Some orthodontists believe
chronic mouth breathing from large tonsils and adenoids causes
malformations of the face and improper alignment of the teeth.
Sore Throat: It can be caused by a number of problems. A
sore throat is usually the result of a virus infecting the upper respiratory
tract (mouth, nose and throat) such as the flu, the common cold or
mononucleosis. Less commonly, it can be
caused by a bacterial infection such as strep, mycoplasma, or hemophilus.
Bacterial infections responds very well to antibiotic
treatment. However, viral infections do not respond
to antibiotic treatment.
Infections in the nose and sinuses can cause sore
throats because mucus from the nose drains down into the throat (post-nasal drip).
The most dangerous throat infection is epiglottitis, caused by bacteria
that infects a portion of the larynx (voice box) and causes swelling that closes the airway. This infection is an emergency condition that
requires prompt medical attention. Symptoms include extreme pain when swallowing
(causing drooling), muffled speech and difficulty breathing.
Strep Throat: This is an infection by one particular type of bacteria - Streptococcus pyogenes.
Although other bacteria can cause throat infections, most doctors will try to
specifically diagnose the "strep" bacteria so that antibiotic treatment can be
given. In rare cases, strep infections
can also damage the heart valves (rheumatic fever) and kidneys (nephritis),
cause scarlet fever, tonsillitis, pneumonia, sinusitis, and ear infections.
Because of these possible complications, a strep throat should be treated with
Severe and chronic cases of tonsillitis or tonsillar abscess may be culture
negative. Negative cultures are seen with diphtheria, and infections from oral
sexual contacts will escape detection by strep culture tests.
Viral Infections: Most viral sore throats accompany flu or
colds. Usually patients have a stuffy, runny nose, sneezing, and generalized
aches and pains. They are highly contagious and spread quickly, especially in
winter. The body builds antibodies that destroy the virus, a process that takes
about a week.
Sore throats accompany other viral infections
- · Measles
- · Chicken pox
- · Whooping cough
- · Croup
Infectious mononucleosis, or "mono”: Mono is a viral infection that takes much
longer than a week to be cured. This
virus lodges in the lymph system, causing massive enlargement of the tonsils
with white patches on their surface and swollen glands in the neck, armpits, and
Transmitted primarily through saliva, it has been
nicknamed the "kissing disease," but it can also be transmitted from
mouth-to-hand or by sharing of food or beverages and
even your towels. It creates a severe
sore throat and, sometimes, serious breathing difficulties. It can affect the liver, leading to jaundice—
yellow skin and eyes. It also causes extreme fatigue that can last six weeks or
more. In some patients, treatment with steroids
(e.g. cortisone) is sometimes helpful.
What are the
other causes of sore throat?
- · Pollens and molds
- · Cat and dog dander
- · House dust
Dry heat, during the cold winter months, may
create a recurring, mild sore throat with a parched feeling, especially in the
mornings. This often responds to humidification of bedroom air and increased
liquid intake. Patients with a chronic
stuffy nose, causing mouth breathing, also suffer with a dry throat. They need
an examination and treatment of the nose. Pollutants and chemicals in the air can irritate the nose and throat. The most common air pollutant is tobacco
smoke. Other irritants include smokeless tobacco, alcoholic beverages and spicy
A person who strains his or her voice (yelling at a sports event, for example)
gets a sore throat not only from muscle strain but also from the rough treatment
of his or her throat membranes.
An occasional cause of a morning sore throat is
regurgitation of stomach acids up into the back of the throat. To avoid reflux,
Place extra pillows under your head or tilt your bed frame so that the head is
elevated four-to-six- inches higher than the foot of the bed.
Antacids can be helpful and avoid eating within three hours of bedtime, and
eliminate caffeine and alcohol. An
evaluation by a physician is recommended if these tips failed.
Tumors of the throat, tongue, and
larynx (voice box) are usually (but not always) associated with long-time use of
tobacco and alcohol. Sore throat and difficulty swallowing—sometimes with pain
radiating to the ear—may be symptoms of such a tumor. More often the sore
throat is so mild or so chronic that it is hardly noticed. Important symptoms
- · Hoarseness
- · Lump in the neck
- · Unexplained weight loss
- · Spitting up blood in the saliva
How Do I
Manage My Sore Throat?
When Should I See a Doctor?
The following signs and symptoms should alert you to seek medical treatment:
- · Severe and prolonged sore
- · Difficulty breathing
- · Difficulty swallowing
- · Difficulty opening the mouth
- · Joint pain
- · Earache
- · Rash
- · Fever (over 101°)
- · Blood in saliva or phlegm
- · Frequently recurring sore
- · Lump in neck
- · Hoarseness lasting over two
How Can I
Treat My Sore Throat?
A mild sore throat associated with cold or flu symptoms can be made more
comfortable with the following remedies:
- · Increase your liquid intake
- · Warm tea with honey is a
favorite home remedy
- · Use a steamer or humidifier in
- · Gargle with warm salted water
several times daily: ¼ tsp. salt to ½ cup water.
- · Take
over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol Sore Throat®)
or ibuprofen (Motrin IB®, Advil®).
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