Peritonsillar abscess

Revision as of 20:37, 10 March 2015 by Rossdonaldson1 (talk | contribs) (Treatment)


  • Abscess between tonsillar capsule and superior constrictor and palatopharyngeus muscles
  • Microbiology
    • Polymicrobial: strep/staph, anaerobes, eikenella, haemophilus

Clinical Features

  • Symptoms
    • Fever
    • Sore throat
    • Odynophagia/dysphagia
  • Signs
    • Trismus
    • Muffled voice ("hot potato voice")
    • Contralateral deflection of swollen uvula

Differential Diagnosis

Acute Sore Throat

Bacterial infections

Viral infections




  • Ultrasound
    • Differentiates cellulitis from abscess
    • Can identify neck vasculature prior to aspiration
  • CT w/ IV contrast
    • Differentiates PTA from parapharyngeal or retropharyngeal space infection


  1. Drainage (no difference in outcome when comparing needle aspiration with I&D)
    • Needle Aspiration
      • Apply anesthetic spray to overlying mucosa
      • Have pt hold suction, and use as needed
      • Use laryngoscope or disassembled vaginal speculum with wand as tongue depressor and light source
      • Inject 1-2mL of lidocaine with epi into mucosa of anterior tonsillar pillar using 25ga needle
      • Cut distal tip off of needle sheath and place over 18ga needle to expose 1 cm of needle to prevent accidentally plunging deeper than desired
      • Aspirate using 18ga needle just lateral to the tonsil, no more than 1cm (internal carotid artery 2.5 cm posterolateral)
        • May require multiple aspirations to find the abscess (first try superior then middle then inferior poles)
        • Consider spinal needle if pt has significant trismus.
    • I&D
      • 11 or 15 blade scalpel
      • Do not penetrate more than 1cm
      • May be indicated if significant pus with needle aspiration
  2. Antibiotics
  3. Steroids

Indications for tonsillectomy

  • Airway obstruction
  • Recurrent severe pharyngitis or PTA
  • Failure of abscess resolution with drainage


  • Airway obstruction
  • Rupture abscess with aspiration of contents
  • Hemorrhage due to erosion of carotid sheath
  • Retropharyngeal abscess
  • Mediastinitis
  • Recurrence occurs in 10-15% of patients
  • Lemierre's syndrome
  • Iatrogenic laceration of carotid artery
    • Carotid artery is 2.5 cm behind and lateral to tonsil


  • Follow up in 2-3 days

Return Precautions

  • SOB
  • Worsening throat or neck pain
  • Enlarging mass
  • Bleeding
  • Neck stiffness

See Also


  • Tintinalli
  • UpToDate
  • Roberts & Hedges
  • Melio, Frantz, and Laurel Berge. “Upper Respiratory Tract Infection.” In Rosen’s Emergency Medicine., 8th ed. Vol. 1, n.d.