Late Retropharyngeal and Parapharyngeal Abscess in Patients with a History of Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion

Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol. 2023 Mar;132(3):294-303. doi: 10.1177/00034894221086993. Epub 2022 Apr 21.


Objective: Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion is a common procedure performed by spine surgeons with rare complications and high treatment success. Late presentation of retropharyngeal abscess in patients with a history of anterior cervical discectomy and fusion is rare but can have devastating consequences. There is a paucity of data to guide medical and surgical management of retropharyngeal abscess in these patients.

Methods: We discuss 7 patients who presented to our institution with a late retropharyngeal abscess after having a history of anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. A review and description of the current literature regarding treatment and outcomes is described.

Results: Seven patients presented to our institution with a retropharyngeal abscess ranging from 10 months to 7 years after undergoing anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. All patients received at least a 6-week course of appropriate intravenous antibiotics. Only one patient had their initial ACDF instrumentation removed at the time of presentation for the abscess. Four out of the 7 patients were treated with irrigation and debridement in addition to intravenous antibiotics, whereas 3 patients were treated with no surgery and intravenous antibiotics alone. All patients were asymptomatic at final follow up.

Conclusions: Late retropharyngeal abscess after anterior cervical discectomy and fusion is a rare complication. Surgical management should be considered along with long term antibiotics. Removal of implants may not be necessary for infection resolution. Antibiotic treatment alone may be indicated for patients who are not septic, do not have airway compromise, or and can be considered for poor surgical candidates.

Keywords: ACDF; ACDF complications; anterior cervical discectomy and fusion; esophageal perforation; late ACDF complications; parapharyngeal abscess; prevertebral abscess; retropharyngeal abscess.

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cervical Vertebrae / surgery
  • Deglutition Disorders* / etiology
  • Diskectomy / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Postoperative Complications / etiology
  • Retropharyngeal Abscess* / diagnosis
  • Retropharyngeal Abscess* / etiology
  • Retropharyngeal Abscess* / surgery
  • Spinal Fusion* / adverse effects
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents