A peritonsillar abscess is a treatable bacterial condition that develops when pus from an infection spreads from the tonsils into the neck and chest area. The tissue in these areas can become so swollen that the airways become blocked. Antibiotics are used to treat this type of infection when its caught early enough, but an incision and drainage procedure may be required to drain the pus in more severe instances.

Causes of Peritonsillar Abscess

Peritonsillar abscesses usually start off as strep throat or tonsillitis and become more serious when left untreated. Pus from an infection forms in the tonsils, potentially spreading and blocking airways. This seasonal infection is prevalent in children and young adults and develops most often at the beginning or end of winter. Mononucleosis is another infection that can result in a peritonsillar abscess. Incidences of this infection are increasing because antibiotics are being used to treat them more often.


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Symptoms of a Peritonsillar Abscess

The symptoms of this condition mimic strep throat and tonsillitis. Visible signs of a peritonsillar abscess include white blisters and boils inside the mouth. A person may also experience fever and chills, a sore throat, and headache. Other symptoms such as difficulty opening the mouth and swallowing, swelling in the face and neck area, dry mouth, bad breath, and swollen glands also suggest a peritonsillar abscess infeciton.


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Sometimes, peritonsillar abscesses produce more series and rare symptoms that create additional complications. A lung infection can develop, the abscess can rupture, and an airway can become blocked. The infection can spread to other areas of the body; the throat, neck, mouth, and chest can become infected, as well as the tonsils.


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In order to diagnose a peritonsillar abscess, a physician will examine the mouth and throat, perform a throat culture, and possibly a blood test. A peritonsillar abscess will typically create swelling on the roof of the mouth and one side of the throat, as well as redness and swelling of the throat and neck. Lymph nodes are usually visibly swollen as well. If the physician needs a more detailed examination of the abscess, he or she may conduct an MRI or CAT scan. In addition, in some situations, a needle draw will be performed to run lab tests on the pus. The tests the physician conducts rely heavily on the seriousness of the condition as well as the symptoms.  


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Generally, a peritonsillar abscess is treated with antibiotics. Sometimes the abscess will also be lanced to drain the pus. However, additional measures may be necessary. If the swelling becomes so intense that the patient can't eat or drink easily, an IV can provide hydration. Painkillers treat pain associated with the infection. If the infection becomes chronic, the tonsils may need to be removed.


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Prompt treatment of tonsillitis, strep throat, and mononucleosis can prevent peritonsillar abscesses. Poor dental hygiene can negatively impact the infection as well. Be sure to undertake responsible dental health practices and visit the dentist regularly.


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Additional Preventative Measures

Smoking can create a climate that welcomes peritonsillar abscesses. The toxins that smoking produces flow through your throat and lungs and infection can be one side effect. Abstaining from smoking can minimize your chances of developing a peritonsillar abscess.


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Risk Factors

Young people are most at risk for developing a peritonsillar abscess. Older children, adolescents, and young adults contract this infection more often than other age groups, and recurrence is not uncommon. However, treatment usually heals peritonsillar abscesses fairly quickly, within a week or two.


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When to Call a Doctor

In rare cases, treatment may be ineffective. If you symptoms persist days after treatment, call your doctor immediately. It is also a good idea to contact a doctor if you experience a sore throat, swelling, and difficulty swallowing. The sooner you address the symptoms, the easier it is to treat the infection.


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After treatment, most people fully recover from peritonsillar abscesses. However, in some cases, the infection can return. Sometimes the infection is more serious, particularly when it develops as a result of a serious infection like pneumonia, fluid around the heart and lungs, airway obstruction, or a skin infection in the neck and jaw.


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