A peritonsillar abscess is a condition of the throat where an abscess forms in the tissues lying next to the tonsils. Pus begins to collect in these tissues and the skin becomes highly inflamed and tender. Though a peritonsillar abscess can be present in anyone, it is usually found in adults and rarely in young children.
This condition often causes swelling of the neck region, along with pain and blockage of the throat. The constriction of the throat causes difficulties in speaking, swallowing, and sometimes even breathing.
Most of the times, this abscess is caused due to an infection in the tonsils. If a person has tonsillitis which becomes complicated, these abscesses could form due to the spread of the bacteria. The bacteria that is responsible for this infection, spread easily inside the throat and causes these abscesses. Most often, it is the streptococcal bacteria that cause this infection. The bacteria directly attack the soft tissue adjacent to the tonsils, since they are the closest in range. Once the tissue is infected, anaerobic bacteria begin to invade the infected tissue.
Though tonsillitis is the main cause of these abscesses, there are other dental infections that may cause a higher risk of developing this disorder. Some of the other risk factors are mononucleosis which is infectious, habitual chain smoking, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or deposits of calcium and stones in the tonsils.
Peritonsillar abscesses usually begin with a sore throat. There may be fever or other flu-like symptoms that keep increasing as the abscesses develop. Sometimes, the symptoms may begin much earlier than the development of the abscesses. This is because of the bacteria that are in action. The mouth and throat start to become inflamed. The swelling is usually only on one side. The lymph glands of the neck region become enlarged and inflamed. There is also a severe pain in the throat that is limited to just one side of the throat. Swallowing becomes painful and the jaw and neck experiences several muscle spasms. The pain in the throat may often be accompanied by a pain in the ear.
If you begin to have a severe pain in the throat where the pain is only on one side, it is better to visit a doctor. Even if you put off a visit immediately after you start getting a sore throat, go to a doctor if you also have fever and other symptoms.
The pain and discomfort associated with this disorder can be avoided if you take some preventive measures. Always maintain good oral hygiene so that these bacteria do not spread. It is also important reduce smoking or quit it altogether.