Peritonsillar Abscess

What is a peritonsillar abscess?

A peritonsillar abscess (say: pair-ee-TON-sill-er AB-sess) occurs when a sore filled with pus (a thick, whitish-yellow fluid) forms near one of your tonsils. The tonsils are the oval-shaped areas of pink tissue on each side at the back of your throat.

What are the symptoms of a peritonsillar abscess?

The symptoms of a peritonsillar abscess include:

  • Severe sore throat that is worse on one side
  • Fever and chills
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Pain when you speak

Call your doctor right away if you have trouble breathing, swallowing, talking, or if you start to drool. These are symptoms of a more serious abscess and need immediate medical attention.

What causes a peritonsillar abscess?

Peritonsillar abscesses are caused by an infection. Most are a complication of tonsillitis (an infection of the tonsils). But they can also be caused by mononucleosis (also called mono), or tooth and gum infections. People who smoke are more likely to get a peritonsillar abscess.

How is it treated?

Your doctor will need to remove the pus from the abscess. Your doctor will numb the skin around the abscess. He or she will either take the pus out with a needle or make a small cut in the abscess so the pus can drain out. Surgery to remove your tonsils (called a tonsillectomy) is also an option. You will probably only need surgery if you have had many tonsil infections or abscesses before.

Your pain and symptoms should get better after the pus is drained. Your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics to make sure the infection goes away completely. He or she may also give you medicine to help relieve the pain.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • If I get tonsillitis, will I get a peritonsillar abscess?
  • When should I call my doctor?
  • I think I have a peritonsillar abscess. What can I do to make myself more comfortable until I go to the doctor?
  • If I have a peritonsillar abscess, am I contagious?
  • Will I have to have a tonsillectomy after the abscess is drained?
  • What antibiotic will I take after the abscess is drained?
  • How long will it be until I feel better?