What is a Pharyngeal Abscess?

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  • Written By: Dulce Corazon
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 13 October 2019
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The word abscess refers to a collection of pus, or dead white blood cells, that develops after an infection has occurred in certain areas of the body. When it is seen in the pharynx, or the back of the throat, this condition is called a pharyngeal abscess. A pharyngeal abscess is usually accompanied by severe sore throat, enlargement of the neck lymph nodes, rigidity of the neck, and swelling of the pharynx. It is most often caused by bacterial infections that start in the tonsils, the nose, and the salivary glands. Tooth infections may also lead to this condition.

Trauma in the upper respiratory tract area can also result in pharyngeal abscess formation. Sharp objects or even solid food may get lodged in the throat, cause injury, and lead to the build up of pus in the area. This is especially common in children.

Sometimes, medical procedures can also result in the development of a pharyngeal abscess. These include insertion of feeding tubes, surgery in the head and neck area, endoscopy, and dental procedures like tooth extraction, among many others. Endoscopy is a procedure in which a thin tube with a camera and other devices is inserted in the throat for evaluation of abnormalities in the esophagus and larynx. Other factors that can contribute to pharyngeal abscess formation are poor oral hygiene, immune dysfunction, and even low socioeconomic status.


Patients with pharyngeal abscess often suffer pain in the neck or jaw, develop a mass or tender tissue in the affected area, have a muffled voice and develop a tendency to drool. Difficulty of breathing, headache, fever, and sore throat are also usually observed. When not treated promptly, this condition can lead to several complications. These include paralysis of the vocal cords, bleeding in the ear, mouth or nose, and rupture of the carotid artery, a blood vessel in the neck carrying oxygenated blood to the brain.

Treatment of a pharyngeal abscess often involves the use of pain medications and antibiotics to relieve pain and fight off the infection, respectively. Some patients may be given oxygen therapy in cases where the swollen airway has progressed to breathing difficulty. Intravenous fluids are also usually given to patients who find it hard to swallow food due to their swollen throat. Surgery may also be performed to remove or drain the pus that collected in the area.

The formation of pharyngeal abscess can be prevented by prompt treatment of infections that occur in the respiratory tract. Chewing food properly before swallowing can help prevent injury in the throat. Maintenance of good oral hygiene is also an important preventive measure.


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