Peritonsillar abscesses are a complication of tonsillitis. They generally occur as a result of untreated tonsillitis or strep throat. Essentially bacterial infections, peritonsillar abscesses usually form pus-filled pockets near one of the tonsils. This type of infection most often affects young children and teens. The abscesses can also be caused by mononucleosis. Only in very rare cases will symptoms of peritonsillar abscesses develop without an infection.

Symptom: Fever

Fever is a typical symptom associated with peritonsillar abscesses. Fever often indicates the body is fighting an infection. If fever is masked by over-the-counter fever-reducing medications, parents might at first overlook an underlying condition such as strep throat.


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Symptom: Sore Throat

It is important to have children checked out if they complain of a severe sore throat. While a sore throat is a common symptom of colds, it can also indicate strep throat or tonsillitis, both of which can lead to peritonsillar abscesses. A hallmark of this sore throat caused by the latter is that it tends to appear on one side of the throat where the abscess is forming. The abscess may also be visible at the back of the throat and look like a white, swollen blister.


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Symptom: Swelling of Face or Neck

Swelling from a peritonsillar abscess may occur in the face or neck. Pain may also accompany the swelling, which indicates the infection could be spreading. It is important to have your healthcare provider check out the situation and prescribe the appropriate treatment to fight the underlying infection.


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Symptom: Difficulty Swallowing

People with peritonsillar abscesses often find it difficult to swallow. Not only will they struggle to swallow their food, but they may also find that it hurts even to swallow broth or just saliva. This symptom can also be associated with strep throat which, if left untreated, could progress to an abscess.


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Symptom: Swollen Glands and Ear Pain

You might suspect peritonsillar abscess if swollen glands accompany the sore throat pain on one side of the throat. Often, the abscess will also cause ear pain on the side it has developed. Swollen glands are just another sign of the raging infection.


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Treatment: See the Doctor

Diagnosis always precedes treatment when it comes to peritonsillar abscesses. In some cases, the attending physician will be able to diagnose the problem with a visual examination of the throat. However, most will order a throat culture to determine the bacteria involved. In some cases, an MRI or CT scan can help examine the abscess more closely.


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Treatment: Antibiotics

Antibiotics are the most commonly prescribed medication for a peritonsillar abscess. Many people are striving to cut back on antibiotics because overuse of these drugs is leading to more drug-resistant strains of bacteria. However, this is one type of infection where doctors rely on them, as the abscess is almost always already a complication of an advancing infection. Antibiotics should stop the infection in its tracks before it can cause sepsis or airway obstruction.


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Treatment: Abscess Draining

Depending on where the abscess is and how big, your physician may elect to drain the pus from it. Draining the pus can accelerate the healing process. To release these fluids, the doctor will lance the abscess with a needle. In some cases, your primary care doctor may send you to a ENT (ear, nose, and throat doctor) to perform this procedure.



Pain Medications

Peritonsillar abscesses can be quite painful, so doctors might prescribe pain medication during the recovery process. The type of pain medication prescribed is usually dependent on the individual's age. Your healthcare provider might recommend an over-the-counter pain reliever for children. Drinking tea or sipping warm soup broth can also help soothe the pain as the abscess begins to heal.


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Peritonsillar abscesses are an unpleasant infection for anyone at any age to endure. It is possible to prevent this type of abscess from occurring by getting early treatment for suspected strep throat or tonsillitis infections. Putting off treatment puts you at increased risk for peritonsillar abscess development. Also, smokers are more prone to developing these abscesses, so if you haven't stopped the habit, you may want to consider doing so now.


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