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Peritonsillar Abscess

Last Updated August 2022 | This article was created by editorial staff and reviewed by Robert "Chuck" Rich, Jr., MD, FAAFP

What is a peritonsillar abscess?

A peritonsillar abscess is a collection of pus 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). They also can be caused by mononucleosis (also called mono), tooth and gum infections. People who smoke are more likely to get a peritonsillar abscess.

How is a peritonsillar abscess diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and examine the back of your throat. He or she will look for swelling on one side and on the roof of your mouth. The uvula (which hangs at the back of your throat) may appear to be pushed to one side because of the swelling. Your neck and throat may be red and swollen on one or both sides. Your doctor may swab the back of your throat to collect a bacteria sample.

Your doctor may order additional tests, including:

  • Aspiration(draining) of the abscess using a needle
  • CT scanof the neck
  • Endoscopy(a small scope) to check if the airway is blocked

Can a peritonsillar abscess be prevented or avoided?

Quickly treating tonsillitis can reduce the chances of getting peritonsillar abscesses.

Peritonsillar abscess treatment

Your doctor will need to remove the pus from the abscess. To do this, he or she will numb the skin around the abscess. Your doctor will either remove the pus with a needle or make a small cut in the abscess. Surgery to remove your tonsils (called a tonsillectomy) also is 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.

Living with a peritonsillar abscess

The worst is over once a peritonsillar abscess is treated. If left untreated, you will be uncomfortable from the symptoms listed above. Over-the-counter pain relievers may help ease the discomfort.

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?
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