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Peritonsillar cellulitis and abscess

Ellen R Wald, MD
Section Editors
Morven S Edwards, MD
Glenn C Isaacson, MD, FAAP
Stephen J Teach, MD, MPH
Stephen B Calderwood, MD
Deputy Editor
James F Wiley, II, MD, MPH


The clinical features, evaluation, and management of peritonsillar cellulitis (also called peritonsillitis) and abscess will be discussed here. Cervical lymphadenitis, retropharyngeal cellulitis and abscess, and other deep neck space infections are discussed separately. (See "Cervical lymphadenitis in children: Etiology and clinical manifestations" and "Retropharyngeal infections in children" and "Deep neck space infections".)


Suppurative infections of the neck are uncommon. However, they are potentially very serious. Suppurative cervical lymphadenitis is the most common superficial neck infection. Peritonsillar abscess (PTA, quinsy) is the most common deep neck infection [1,2]. Other deep neck infections include retropharyngeal abscess and parapharyngeal space abscess (also known as pharyngomaxillary or lateral pharyngeal space abscess). Pharyngeal space infection most often arises via contiguous spread of infection from a peritonsillar or retropharyngeal abscess.


Two terms are used to describe infection of the peritonsillar region:

Peritonsillar cellulitis – Peritonsillar cellulitis is an inflammatory reaction of the tissue between the capsule of the palatine tonsil and the pharyngeal muscles that is caused by infection, but not associated with a discrete collection of pus. An alternate term for cellulitis is phlegmon.

Peritonsillar abscess – Peritonsillar abscess is a collection of pus located between the capsule of the palatine tonsil and the pharyngeal muscles.

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Nov 15, 2017.
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