Thyroidal abscesses in third and fourth branchial anomalies: not only a paediatric diagnosis

ANZ J Surg. Jul-Aug 2015;85(7-8):578-81. doi: 10.1111/ans.12576. Epub 2014 Mar 27.


Introduction: Acute suppurative thyroiditis and recurrent abscess formation due to third and fourth branchial anomalies typically present in children. However, thyroid abscesses in branchial anomalies may occur in adulthood as well. Failure to recognize and delayed drainage of a neck abscess may lead to a fulminant life-threatening outcome.

Methods: This is a retrospective case series. The study group comprised all patients presenting over a 12-month period from January to December 2012 with thyroid abscesses and a branchial cleft anomaly in two centres, one adult and the other paediatric. Patient demographics, clinical presentation, imaging, surgical management, definitive histology and outcomes were documented.

Results: Five patients were identified with a history of thyroid abscesses. Only one was a child (aged 9 years) with the other four being adults (aged 20, 34, 37 and 41 years). All patients had third or fourth left branchial cleft anomalies, presenting as suppurative thyroiditis with a left-sided thyroid abscess. Management options ranged from abscess drainage on initial presentation, primary thyroid lobectomy or delayed thyroid lobectomy following abscess drainage.

Conclusion: Acute suppurative thyroidits and thyroid abscesses is not just a paediatric diagnosis but may present at any age. In both children and adults, a thyroid abscess almost always arises from branchial cleft anomalies.

Keywords: acute suppurative thyroiditis; third and fourth branchial anomalies; thyroidal abscesses.

MeSH terms

  • Abscess / surgery*
  • Adult
  • Branchial Region / abnormalities*
  • Child
  • Drainage
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Thyroid Diseases / surgery*
  • Thyroidectomy / methods
  • Thyroiditis / surgery*
  • Treatment Outcome