How is peritonsillar abscess (PTA) treated?

Updated: May 09, 2018
  • Author: Jeffrey D Suh, MD; Chief Editor: Arlen D Meyers, MD, MBA  more...
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The most common treatments for PTAs include the following: [2, 3]

  • Needle aspiration: Needle aspiration can be therapeutic in itself; in some studies, up to 85% of patients were effectively treated with outpatient needle aspiration and oral antibiotics. [4, 5] Aspiration can also be used to confirm the diagnosis and localize the PTA for incision and drainage.

  • Incision and drainage: Success rates of the incision and drainage technique are reported in the literature as similar to or slightly higher than reported success rates of the needle aspiration technique.

  • Quinsy tonsillectomy: Quinsy is an obsolete term for PTA. The quinsy tonsillectomy, then, is a tonsillectomy performed in the presence of a PTA. The different techniques of tonsillectomy are not discussed in this article. For information, see Otolaryngology article Tonsillectomy.

In one study, 60% of otolaryngologists in the United Kingdom used needle aspiration as the primary means of treating a peritonsillar abscess. If needle aspiration failed, 52% would then perform an incision and drainage. [6]

In another study of 20,546 weighted cases of PTA from 2000 to 2009 in children aged younger than 18 years, researchers found a significant increase in the rates of incison and drainage from 26.4% to 33.7% and a significant decrease in the rate of tonsillectomy from 13.0% to 7.8%. [7]

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