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Peritonsillar Abscess

What is a peritonsillar abscess?

A peritonsillar abscess, or PTA, is a collection of pus in the peritonsillar space. The peritonsillar space is the area between your tonsil and the back wall of your throat. It is near the opening of the tubes leading to your stomach and lungs.

What causes a peritonsillar abscess?

A PTA is caused by bacteria. It often results from an infection of your tonsils that spreads to the tissues around it. PTA may also follow any mouth infection, including an infection of the teeth and salivary glands. The salivary glands are the organs in the mouth that make saliva.

What are the signs and symptoms of a peritonsillar abscess?

  • Sore throat, often severe

  • Drooling or bad breath

  • Muffled voice

  • Fever

  • Loss of appetite

  • Red and swollen tonsil or throat

  • Pain or difficulty when you open or close your mouth, swallow, and move your neck

How is a peritonsillar abscess diagnosed?

Your caregiver will examine your mouth and throat. He will look to see how red or swollen your abscess is or check to see if it is draining. You may need any of the following:

  • Blood tests: You may need blood taken to give caregivers information about how your body is working. The blood may be taken from your hand, arm, or IV.

  • Needle aspiration: A needle will be used to take the fluid out of the abscess. The fluid is sent to a lab for tests. These tests may show what is causing your abscess.

  • CT scan: This is also called a CAT scan. A special x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your head and neck. You may be given dye through an IV before the pictures are taken. The dye may help your caregiver see the pictures better. Tell your caregiver if you are allergic to shellfish or have other allergies or health problems.

  • Ultrasound: This is a test that uses sound waves to look inside your mouth and throat. Pictures are shown on a TV-like screen. This test will help caregivers see how big your abscess is.

How is a peritonsillar abscess treated?

Treatment is done to cure your PTA and prevent more serious problems.

  • Medicines:

    • Ibuprofen or acetaminophen: These medicines decrease pain and lower a fever. They are available without a doctor's order. Ask your caregiver which medicine is right for you. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. These medicines can cause stomach bleeding if not taken correctly. Ibuprofen can cause kidney damage. Do not take ibuprofen if you have kidney disease, an ulcer, or allergies to aspirin. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage. Do not drink alcohol if you take acetaminophen.

    • Antibiotics: This medicine will help fight your infection. Take your antibiotics until they are gone, even if you feel better.

  • Incision and drainage: Your caregiver makes a cut in the abscess to allow the pus to drain. Ask your caregiver for more information.

  • Surgery: Your caregiver may want to remove your abscess completely. This may include removal of your tonsils. This may be done if treatments have failed or if your PTA is recurrent. Ask your caregiver for more information about surgery.

What are the risks of a peritonsillar abscess?

Treatment for PTA may cause unpleasant effects. Medicines may cause itching, nausea, vomiting, or seizures. Sometimes, pus may need to be drained more than once. If left untreated, your problems could get worse and may be life-threatening. You may have trouble swallowing or be unable to eat and drink. Your airway may become blocked and cause breathing problems. The abscess may burst and the infection may spread to the rest of your body.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • Your abscess returns.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have more pain, swelling, or redness in your throat.

  • Your symptoms get worse or do not get better, even with treatment.

  • You have difficulty or pain when you swallow, or you cannot eat or drink.

  • You have trouble breathing.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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