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While the symptom itself may sound rather gruesome, pus in the throat is a sign of some type of infection. Often noted by a physician during a physical exam of the neck, pus in the throat or spaces inside the head and neck can often be felt in the form of swollen lymph nodes. Commonly referred to as an abscess, pus accumulations are comprised of fluid with bacteria, dead cells, and other matter inside. The two most common types of accumulated pus in the throat are peritonsillar abscess and retropharyngeal abscess.
A peritonsillar abscess is an accumulation of pus around the area of the tonsils, which are the lymph organs located at the back of the throat. Sometimes referred to as quinsy, this type of abscess is most common in older children and adolescents. A retropharyngeal abscess is an accumulation of pus behind the pharynx. Often a symptom of upper respiratory infections, this type of abscess is more common in young children or those whose lymph organs are especially large.
Pus in the throat is considered a complication or secondary symptom of a primary problem. Tonsillitis, strep throat, meningitis, or another type of infection may result in pus, especially if left untreated or treated with an antibiotic to which the bacteria do not respond.
Diagnosis of abscesses in the neck region, or pus in the throat, typically begins with physical examination and recent medical history. Swollen lymph nodes can be felt and visual examination of the throat often reveals any abscesses. Symptoms likely to be present leading up to and during infection include fever, chills, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, facial swelling, and pain or tenderness around the jaw and throat. Further testing, such as throat cultures, bloodwork, or biopsy may be ordered by the treating physician.
If an infection is caught early and little to no accumulation of pus in the throat is found, an antibiotic may prove to be sufficient treatment. Large or unresponsive abscesses usually require lancing and draining in addition to antibiotic treatment. If the tonsils or even adenoids show chronic signs of infection or enlargement, it may be necessary to have the offending organs surgically removed.
As a general rule, most infections of the throat are not severe, however a sore throat lasting more than three days or accompanied by a fever, chills, inability to swallow or other pain should be examined by a doctor. Do not take pain medication for a sore throat lasting more than three days unless directed by a physician. The earlier an infection is caught, the less severe the secondary symptoms will be and the quicker and easier it will be to treat.