Peritonsillar Abscess

Peritonsillar abscess (also known as quinsy) is a pus-producing infection occurring in the cavity at the back of the throat, near the tonsils. Quinsy is usually a complication of tonsillitis, a bacterial infection of the tonsils.

The infection may spread to the soft palate (the back of the roof of the mouth) or may travel down the throat into the chest. If left untreated, the infection may attack the membranes that surround the heart and lungs, known as the pericardium and the pleura, respectively. Infections of these membranes may eventually produce serious, even life-threatening, complications, including fluid accumulation around the heart or lungs, chest pain, and breathing difficulty (pericarditis). Also, in rare cases, swelling on the roof of the mouth may become severe enough to interfere with breathing.

Although peritonsillar abscess occurs more often in young adults, it is uncommon even among that age group. This disorder will not respond well to oral antibiotics, and surgical drainage or aspiration with a needle is often needed. An abscess may recur if the tonsils are not removed.

What Causes Peritonsillar Abscess?

  • Bacterial infection of the tonsils is the underlying cause of peritonsillar abscess.

Symptoms of Peritonsillar Abscess

  • A sore throat that suddenly intensifies in severity, often spreading to the soft palate
  • Pain or difficulty in swallowing or opening the mouth. Pain in the ear may occur during swallowing.
  • Drooling
  • Swollen neck
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Enlarged lymph nodes (swollen glands) in the neck
  • Chills
  • Swollen face
  • Muffled voice

Peritonsillar Abscess Prevention

  • Obtain prompt treatment for sore throats and other upper respiratory infections.

Peritonsillar Abscess Diagnosis

  • Examination of the throat and palate is needed.
  • CT (computed tomography) scan and aspiration of the abscess can also be performed.

How to Treat Peritonsillar Abscess

  • Antibiotics administered to treat peritonsillar abscess should be taken for the full term prescribed.
  • In some cases, intravenous antibiotics and fluid may be needed.
  • Surgery or needle aspiration may be necessary to drain a large, pus-filled abscess.
  • Pain relievers may be taken as necessary to reduce fever and pain.
  • Patients should gargle with warm salt water to soothe a sore throat during recovery and consume plenty of additional nonalcoholic liquids.
  • Surgery to remove the tonsils (tonsillectomy) may be advised to prevent recurrence of peritonsillar abscess, but the operation is usually delayed until the infected abscess has subsided.

When to Call a Doctor

  • Call a doctor if you develop symptoms of a peritonsillar abscess.


Johns Hopkins Symptoms and Remedies: The Complete Home Medical Reference

Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D., Medical Editor

Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 26 Oct 2011

Last Modified: 23 Jul 2015