Your tonsils are small lumps of tissue in the back of your throat. Tonsils help fight infection but sometimes get infected themselves.
What is a tonsillar abscess?
An abscess is a pocket of pus. A tonsillar abscess is a pocket of pus behind one of your tonsils.
Tonsillar abscess is most common in teenagers and young adults
Common symptoms are sore throat, pain when you swallow, fever, and swelling and redness in your throat
Doctors treat tonsillar abscess with antibiotics and by cutting the abscess open to let the pus out
What causes a tonsillar abscess?
Tonsillar abscess is caused by bacteria (usually streptococci and staphylococci) that infect your tonsils. Sometimes the bacteria invade the tissue behind your tonsils. If the infection isn't treated, an abscess may form.
What are the symptoms of a tonsillar abscess?
A tonsillar abscess usually starts with a simple throat infection that gets worse and can cause:
Severe sore throat, especially when you swallow—sometimes you can feel the pain in your ears and need to tilt your head to relieve the pain
Red, swollen tonsils
Sometimes difficulty opening your mouth
Sometimes, a tonsillar abscess also causes:
Trouble talking and a change in your voice
A bulge in your neck
How can doctors tell if I have a tonsillar abscess?
Doctors can often tell if you have a tonsillar abscess by looking in your throat for:
Red swollen tonsils with white patches that may block the back of the throat
Swelling of the uvula (the small piece of tissue that hangs down at the back of the throat) bad enough to push it to one side
Sometimes, doctors use CT (computed tomography) scan or ultrasound to tell if you have a tonsillar abscess. Other times, they put in a needle to see if there's any pus.
How do doctors treat a tonsillar abscess?
Doctors treat a tonsillar abscess with:
Antibiotics given into a vein (IV)
Medicine for pain
Your doctor will also:
Numb your throat
Put a needle into the abscess or cut the abscess to drain the pus
Later on, if you have had several infections, doctors may do surgery to take out your tonsils.