Peritonsillar abscess is a bacterial infection. It develops in the back of the throat, behind or above the tonsils. The infection causes a pocket of pus to form. The tonsil area becomes tender. Fever, trouble swallowing, jaw spasms, and bad breath may also occur. This type of abscess usually happens on one side of the throat or the other. The condition is more common in young adults. It can also occur in children.
The abscess is caused by bacteria. It is usually a complication of another illness, such as:
These factors increase your chances of developing peritonsillar abscess:
- Age: 20-40 years
- Gender: male
- Recent throat infection or dental infection
- Periodontal disease
If you have any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to peritonsillar abscess. These may be caused by other conditions. Tell your doctor if you have:
- Swelling of the tonsils (usually occurs on one side of the throat)
- Bad breath
- Spasm of the jaw muscle
- Discomfort in the uvula and soft palate (tissue at the roof of the mouth)
- Difficulty swallowing
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will also be done. Tests may include the following:
- Needle aspiration—a needle is used to remove a sample of tissue
- Ultrasound—uses sound waves to make images of the inside of the neck
- CT scan—a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the neck
MRI scan—a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of structures inside the neck
Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Options include the following:
To recover, rest and drink plenty of fluids.
Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. Antibiotics can be given in pill form or via an IV (a needle that goes into the arm). Pain relievers may also be recommended.
Your doctor may puncture the abscess with a needle. Fluid will be removed. A sample will be sent to the lab for testing. This procedure can be done in the doctor’s office.
Incision and Drainage Procedure
Your doctor may recommend an incision and drainage procedure. While under sedation, the doctor will make a small cut in the abscess. The fluid will be drained.
Your doctor may recommend a tonsillectomy. This involves removing the affected tonsil.
American Academy of Family Physicians
American Academy of Otolaryngology, Head, and Neck Surgery
Canadian Family Physician
College of Family Physicians of Canada
Dunn N, Lane D, Everitt H, Little P.Use of antibiotics for sore throat and incidence of quinsy. Br J Gen Pract. 2007 Jan;57(534):45.
Peritonsillar abscess. EBSCO Dynamed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated November 30, 2009. Accessed February 18, 2010.
Peritonsillar abscess: diagnosis and treatment. American Family Physician website. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/2002/0101/p93.html. Published January 1, 2002. Accessed February 18, 2010.
Pharyngitis/tonsillopharyngitis. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/thisTopic.php?marketID=15topicID=81. Updated September 2009. Accessed February 25, 2010.
Last reviewed March 2010 by
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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