Is Your Sore Throat a Cold, Strep Throat, or Tonsillitis?

Is Your Sore Throat a Cold, Strep Throat, or Tonsillitis?

A sore throat is uncomfortable and annoying to deal with, especially when there are other symptoms that present with it. Even if it presents on its own, it is important to understand if the sore throat is just because of a common cold or because of something more serious. This helps you get the right sore throat treatment at the right time.

A sore throat is mostly due to one of the three conditions; common cold, strep throat, and tonsillitis. The distinction between the three needs to be made for the best sore throat treatment to be initiated. Tonsillitis treatment for sore throat is completely different from sore throat treatment for the common cold.

Common Cold

Common cold can cause a sore throat, but it is quite different from other conditions that cause a sore throat. A common cold is caused by a virus that affects the respiratory system and presents with flu-like symptoms and a sore throat. The virus that most commonly causes a common cold is Rhinovirus which is very contagious.

Symptoms of Cold

The symptoms of the common cold, apart from the sore throat are:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Nasal congestion
  • Headache
  • Runny nose
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Mouth breathing
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea

It is important to note that these symptoms do not all have to be present at the same time. These symptoms will resolve after 7 days to 10 days, on their own. Some children with severe symptoms may find relief with steroid therapy, however, it is not commonly prescribed for the common cold.

Treatment of Common Cold

A doctor is most likely not going to prescribe any medications for the common cold’s sore throat treatment as the condition is caused by a virus. Viral infections resolve after they have run their course. A doctor is going to, however, recommend lots of fluids and rest to help facilitate recovery.

Several home remedies for sore throat can be used to get rid of a sore throat from the common cold, such as:

  • Gargling with salt water
  • Gargling with baking soda water
  • Warm liquids such as tea with honey and soups
  • Honey in water
  • Humidifier
  • Over-the-counter remedies

Strep Throat

Strep throat is one of the most painful and contagious infections that causes severe sore throat. It is a bacterial infection in origin, caused by the bacteria named Streptococcus pyogenes. The bacteria affects both children and adults, although in a 2:1 ratio.

Strep throat can develop after the common cold or common cold after strep, or both at the same time. While the common cold is not known to cause any complications, strep throat can cause major complications if not treated properly, such as:

  • Rheumatic fever
  • Scarlet fever
  • Post-streptococcal disorder

Symptoms of Strep Throat

Strep throat presents differently in infants and in children and adults. Strep throat, in infants, presents as:

  • a low-grade fever
  • bloody, thick snot
  • Fussy and inconsolable
  • Not feeding properly

Strep throat in children and adults presents as:

  • high fever
  • very sore throat
  • Gray and white spots on the tonsils
  • Swollen lymph nodes and glands

Strep throat, in general, is the one that causes the most painful sore throat with many finding it difficult to swallow food or water easily. However, it does not cause cough which is important for differentiating between strep and the common cold.

Treatment of Strep Throat

Strep throat needs to be treated with antibiotics and anti-fever medications, prescribed by a doctor. Strep throat’s sore throat treatment relies on the use of the right antibiotics as they relieve the pain, and shorten the duration of the infection.

Home remedies for sore throat can also be used along with antibiotics to facilitate recovery and completely get rid of the painful and scratchy sore throat.


Tonsillitis is the condition caused by inflammation or swelling of the tonsils, secondary to a viral infection. Tonsillitis can also be due to bacterial infection, however very rarely. Tonsillitis, compared to strep throat and the common cold, is not contagious but the viral infection that causes tonsillitis is. The condition usually lasts for 3 to 4 days, and the tonsils go back to their normal size during the recovery.

Symptoms of Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis presents with the following symptoms:

  • Sore throat
  • Inflammed and red tonsils
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Fever
  • A white or yellow coating on your tonsils
  • Painful blisters or ulcers on your throat
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Ear pain
  • Swollen glands in your neck or jaw
  • Bad breath
  • A scratchy or muffled voice

The symptoms of tonsillitis can be severe and last for a long or short period of time, depending on the type of tonsillitis.

Treatment of Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis treatment is similar to strep throat treatment. The three hallmarks of tonsillitis treatment are:

  • Home remedies for sore throat
  • Antibiotics for the infection
  • Surgery to remove tonsils

Common cold, strep throat, and tonsillitis all present with a sore throat but it is important to distinguish between the three and treat the right condition with right treatment.