Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Peritonsillar Abscess: What You Should Know


Am Fam Physician. 2008 Jan 15;77(2):209.

  See related article on peritonsillar abscess.

What is peritonsillar abscess?

A peritonsillar abscess (pair-ee-TON-sill-er AB-sess) is when a sore filled with pus (a thick, whitish-yellow fluid) forms near one of your tonsils at the back of your throat. It is caused by an infection, but doctors don't know why it happens. Most of these abscesses are a complication of tonsillitis (an infection of the tonsils), but infectious mononucleosis (also called mono) or tooth or gum infections can also cause them. People who smoke are more likely to get abscesses.

How can I tell if I have one?

The most common symptom is a severe sore throat that is worse on one side. You may also have a fever or trouble swallowing. It can be hard to speak or you may only be able to talk softly. It also can hurt to open your mouth wide. Call your doctor right away if you have trouble breathing, swallowing, or talking, or if you start to drool.

How is it treated?

The pus will need to be removed. Your doctor can drain the pus in several ways. First, your doctor will numb the skin around the abscess. Then, your doctor will either take the pus out with a needle or make a small cut in the abscess so the pus can drain out. Surgery to remove your tonsils is also an option. You will probably only need surgery if you have had tonsil infections or abscesses before.

After the pus is gone, the pain and symptoms should get better. You may have to take antibiotics to make sure the infection completely goes away. Your doctor may also give you medicine for the pain or to help you relax.

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


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