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Peritonsillar Abscess


Peritonsillar abscess is a bacterial infection. It develops on the side of the throat, behind or above the tonsils. The infection causes a pocket of pus to form. This type of abscess usually happens on 1 side of the throat or the other.

The Tonsils

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Causes    TOP

The abscess is caused by bacteria. It is usually a complication of another illness such as strep throat.

Risk Factors    TOP

It is more common in males and people aged 20-40 years old.

Other factors that may increase the chances of a peritonsillar abscess:

  • Pharyngitis or tonsilitis caused by strep bacteria
  • Pharyngitis or tonsilitis caused by other bacteria
  • Mononucleosis
  • Recent throat infection or dental infection
  • Periodontal disease
  • Smoking

Symptoms    TOP

Symptoms may include:

  • Pain in the throat around the tonsil area
  • Tonsil that is moved to one side
  • Fever
  • Drooling and trouble swallowing
  • Bad breath
  • Spasm of the jaw muscle
  • Discomfort in the uvula and soft palate—the tissue at the roof of the mouth
  • Sore and swollen neck glands

Diagnosis    TOP

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

You may need to have tissue tested. This can be done with needle aspiration.

You may need to have pictures taken of the inside of your neck. This can be done with:

Treatment    TOP

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment may include:

Supportive Care

Rest and drink plenty of fluids.


Medications may include:

  • Oral or IV antibiotics to treat the infection
  • Pain relievers
  • IV corticosteroids (usually a single dose) to help reduce inflammation and ease pain

Aspiration    TOP

The abscess may be punctured with a needle to remove fluid. A sample of the fluid will be sent to the lab for testing. This procedure can be done in the doctor’s office.

Incision and Drainage Procedure    TOP

An incision and drainage procedure may be done. While under sedation, a small cut will be made in the abscess. The fluid will be drained.

Tonsillectomy    TOP

A tonsillectomy may be recommended if all other treatments fail. This involves removing the affected tonsil. This may also be done if you have had previous peritonsillar infections or abscesses.

Prevention    TOP

To help reduce the chances of a peritonsillar abscess:

  • See your doctor if you have a throat infection. This is especially important if you have severe or chronic throat infections.
  • If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to quit.


American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head, and Neck Surgery
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians


The College of Family Physicians of Canada


Dunn N, Lane D, Everitt H, Little P. Use of antibiotics for sore throat and incidence of quinsy. Br J Gen Pract. 2007 Jan;57(534):45.
Peritonsillar abscess. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated October 9, 2017. Accessed March 5, 2018.
Steyer T. Peritonsillar abscess: diagnosis and treatment. Am Fam Physician. 2002;65(1):93-97.
10/27/2017 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed...: Chau JK, Seikaly HR, Harris JR, Villa-Roel C, Brick C, Rowe BH. Corticosteroids in peritonsillar abscess treatment: a blinded placebo-controlled clinical trial. Laryngoscope. 2014;124(1):97-103.
Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Monica Zangwill, MD, MPH
Last Updated: 10/27/2017

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