Peritonsillar abscess is the most common deep infection of the head and neck, occurring primarily in young adults. Diagnosis is usually made on the basis of clinical presentation and examination. Symptoms and findings generally include fever, sore throat, dysphagia, trismus, and a “hot potato” voice. Drainage of the abscess, antibiotic therapy, and supportive therapy for maintaining hydration and pain control are the cornerstones of treatment. Most patients can be managed in the outpatient setting. Peritonsillar abscesses are polymicrobial infections, and antibiotics effective against group A streptococcus and oral anaerobes should be first-line therapy. Corticosteroids may be helpful in reducing symptoms and speeding recovery.
Promptly recognizing the infection and initiating therapy are important to avoid potentially serious complications, such as airway obstruction, aspiration, or extension of infection into deep neck tissues. Patients with peritonsillar abscess are usually first encountered in the primary care outpatient setting or in the emergency department.