Peritonsillar Abscess

Peritonsillar Abscess

Lea este articulo en Espanol

The Basics

Lots of kids get tonsillitis (an infection of the tonsils), especially younger kids. As kids get older, however, this throat infection can be accompanied by an unpleasant condition called a peritonsillar abscess.

A peritonsillar abscess is an area of pus-filled tissue at the back of the mouth, next to one of the tonsils. The abscess can be very painful and make it difficult to open the mouth. It can also cause swelling that can push the tonsil toward the uvula (the dangling fleshy object at the back of the mouth). This can block the throat, making it difficult to swallow, speak, and sometimes even breathe.

An untreated peritonsillar abscess can lead to a spread of the infection into the neck and chest, as well as other serious complications.

Causes

Peritonsillar abscesses are most often caused by the group A streptococcus bacteria that also cause strep throat. Sometimes other types of bacteria are also involved.

Peritonsillar abscesses usually happen as a complication of tonsillitis, when the infection spreads from a tonsil into the space surrounding it. Fortunately, these kinds of abscesses are uncommon because doctors use antibiotics to treat tonsillitis.

Tooth and gum disease and smoking can increase the chances of a peritonsillar abscess.

Symptoms

Often the first sign of a peritonsillar abscess is a sore throat. As the abscess develops, other symptoms will appear, such as:

A peritonsillar abscess that goes untreated for a long time can lead to serious complications — for example, the infection may extend into the jaw, neck, and chest, or lead to pneumonia.

Diagnosis

Call a doctor if your child has a sore throat along with a fever or any of the other symptoms of a peritonsillar abscess. It's rare that an abscess will restrict breathing, but if it does, you might need to take your child to the emergency room right away.

The doctor will examine your child's mouth, throat, and neck. The doctor also might do a throat culture and a blood test. Rarely, a doctor may order a CT scan or ultrasound to help make the diagnosis.

Treatment

The usual treatment for a peritonsillar abscess involves draining the abscess. This can be done in a doctor's office by withdrawing the pus with a needle (called aspiration) or making a small cut in the abscess with a scalpel so the pus can drain out.

If this doesn't work, the tonsils might need to be removed in a tonsillectomy. This is especially true for kids who have had multiple recent cases of tonsillitis or a prior peritonsillar abscess.

Depending on your child's condition and treatment, he or she may need to stay in the hospital for a short time following the procedure. The doctor probably will prescribe pain relievers and antibiotics. Make sure your child finishes the full course of antibiotics even if he or she feels better after a few days.

The earlier a case of peritonsillar abscess is diagnosed and treated, the less invasive the treatment will need to be. So if you notice symptoms, call your doctor right away.

Lowering Risk Factors

Kids can reduce their risk of a peritonsillar abscess by practicing good oral hygiene. And encourage your teens not to smoke because — among other health risks — smoking can increase the risk of developing a peritonsillar abscess.

Reviewed by: Scott A. Barron, MD
Date reviewed: January 2015





Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

© 1995-2015 KidsHealth® All rights reserved.
Images provided by iStock, Getty Images, Corbis, Veer, Science Photo Library, Science Source Images, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com





Bookmark and Share

Related Resources
OrganizationCenters for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The CDC (the national public health institute of the United States) promotes health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability.
Related Articles
Having Your Tonsils Taken Out Sometimes tonsils need to be removed, but how is it done? Find out in this article for kids.
Hand Washing Did you know that the most important thing you can do to keep from getting sick is to wash your hands? If you don't wash your hands frequently, you can pick up germs from other sources and then infect yourself.
Why Should I Care About Germs? Germs are tiny organisms that can cause disease - and they're so small that they can creep into your system without you noticing. Find out how to protect yourself.
Mouth and Teeth Our mouth and teeth play an important role in our daily lives. Here's a course on the basics - including common problems of the mouth and teeth.
Strep Throat Strep throat is a common infection that usually needs to be treated with antibiotics. Find out how to recognize the signs of strep throat and what to expect if you have it.
Tonsillitis Tonsillitis, an inflammation of the tonsils caused by an infection, causes sore throat, fever, swollen glands in the neck, and trouble swallowing.
Abscess An area of infected tissue is called an abscess. Find out how to spot a skin abscess and when to call the doctor.
Tonsils and Tonsillectomies Everybody's heard of tonsils, but not everyone knows what tonsils do in the body or why they may need to be removed. Find out here.
Tonsils and Tonsillectomies Not everyone knows what tonsils do or why they may need to be removed. Knowing the facts can help alleviate the fears of both parents and kids facing a tonsillectomy.
Tonsillitis You wake up and your throat is swollen and you have a fever. Could it be tonsillitis? Find out what tonsillitis is, how to treat it, and how to prevent it.
Tonsillitis If your tonsils get infected, it can make your throat feel very sore. Find out more in this article for kids.
Why Do I Need to Wash My Hands? Washing your hands is the best way to stop germs from spreading. Learn all about the best way to wash your hands in this article for kids.
Peritonsillar Abscess A peritonsillar abscess is an area of pus-filled tissue at the back of the mouth, next to one of the tonsils. Find out how it happens and what to do.
Why Is Hand Washing So Important? Did you know that proper hand washing is the best way to keep from getting sick? Here's how to teach this all-important habit to your kids.
The Scoop on Strep Throat Strep throat gives you a sore throat and makes it hard to swallow. Find out more in this article for kids.
Strep Throat Strep throat is a common cause of sore throat in kids and teens. It usually requires treatment with antibiotics, but improves in a few days.
Are Kids With No Tonsils More Susceptible to Infections? Find out what the experts have to say.
Abscess An abscess is a sign of an infection, usually on the skin. Find out what to do if your child develops one.
Abscess People can get abscesses on the skin, under the skin, in a tooth, or even inside the body. Most abscesses are caused by infection, so it can help to know what to do. Find out in this article for teens.
Developments Developments
Sign up for enewsletter
Get involved Get involved
Discover ways to support Akron Children's
Join the conversation Join the conversation
See what our patient families are saying