Peritonsillar Abscess (cont.)
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.
Scott H Plantz, MD, FAAEM
Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD
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