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:
Factors that increase your chances of developing peritonsillar abscess include:
Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors.
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:
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include the following:
Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Options include the following:
To recover, rest and drink plenty of fluids.
Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. Antibiotics can be given in pill form or through an IV. Pain relievers may also be advised.
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 if all other treatments fail. This involves removing the affected tonsil.
To help reduce your chances of getting peritonsillar abscess, take the following steps:
American Academy of Family Physicians
American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head, and Neck Surgery
The 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 12, 2012. Accessed February 18, 2013.
Steyer T. Peritonsillar abscess: diagnosis and treatment. Am Fam Physician . 2002;65(1):93-97. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/2002/0101/p93.html . Accessed February 18, 2013.
Last reviewed March 2013 by Michael Woods, MD