Peritonsillar Abscess (cont.)
Scott H Plantz, MD, FAAEM
Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD
Exams and Tests
Peritonsillar abscess is usually diagnosed based on history and physical examination. A peritonsillar abscess is easy to diagnose when it is large enough to see. The doctor will look into your mouth using a light and, possibly, a tongue depressor. Swelling and redness on one side of the throat near the tonsil suggests an abscess. The doctor may also gently push on the area with a gloved finger to see if there is pus from infection inside.
- Lab tests and x-rays are not used often. Sometimes an x-ray or an ultrasound will be performed, typically to make sure other upper airway illnesses are not present. These conditions may include the following:
- Epiglottitis, an inflammation of the epiglottis (the flap of tissue that prevents food from entering the windpipe)
- Retropharyngeal abscess, a pocket of pus that forms beneath the soft tissue in the back of the throat (like a peritonsillar abscess but in a different location)
- Peritonsillar cellulitis, an infection of the soft tissue itself (a peritonsillar abscess forms beneath the surface of the tissue)
- Your doctor may test you for mononucleosis, a virus. Some experts suggest that mono is associated with up to 20% of peritonsillar abscesses.
- Your doctor also may send some of the pus from the abscess to the lab so the exact bacteria can be identified. Even so, identifying the bacteria rarely changes treatment.
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