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Lahey Health is now part of Beth Israel Lahey Health

by EBSCO Medical Review Board

Definition

Peritonsillar abscess is a pocket of pus. It happens on one side of the throat.

The Tonsils
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Causes

The abscess is caused by a bacteria. It is usually a complication of another illness such as strep throat .

Risk Factors

This problem is more common in males and people aged 20 to 40 years of age.

Other things that may raise the risk of this problem are:

  • Pharyngitis or tonsillitis caused by strep bacteria or another bacteria
  • Mononucleosis
  • Recent throat infection or dental infection
  • Periodontal disease
  • Smoking

Symptoms

Problems may be:

  • Fever
  • Throat pain around the tonsil area
  • A tonsil that is moved to one side
  • Discomfort in the roof of the mouth
  • Neck pain and swelling
  • Bad breath
  • Jaw spasms
  • Drooling and problems swallowing

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on the throat. This is often enough to make the diagnosis.

Tissue may be tested if the diagnosis is not clear. This can be done with needle aspiration.

Images may also be taken of the neck. This can be done with:

Treatment

The goal is to treat the infection. This can be done with:

Supportive Care

An IV may be used to provide fluids and nutrition to people who have problems swallowing.

Medication

Medicine may be given to:

  • Ease pain and swelling
  • Treat the infection

Aspiration

The abscess may be punctured with a needle to drain fluid.

Surgery

An incision may be made to drain fluid from the abscess.

People who are not helped by these methods may need to have their tonsils removed. This can be done with a tonsillectomy.

Prevention

The risk of this problem may be lowered by getting treated for throat infections right away.

RESOURCES

American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head, and Neck Surgery  http://www.entnet.org 

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians  https://familydoctor.org 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

The College of Family Physicians of Canada  http://www.cfpc.ca 

Health Canada  https://www.canada.ca 

References

Peritonsillar abscess. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/peritonsillar-abscess. Accessed August 16, 2021.

Peritonsillar abscess. KidsHealth—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/peritonsillar-abscess.html. Accessed August 16, 2021.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board James Cornell, MD
  • Review Date: 07/2021
  • Update Date: 08/16/2021