Harris P. Mosher Award thesis. Peritonsillar abscess: incidence, current management practices, and a proposal for treatment guidelines

Laryngoscope. 1995 Aug;105(8 Pt 3 Suppl 74):1-17. doi: 10.1288/00005537-199508002-00001.


Currently there is no agreement on the treatment of patients who develop a peritonsillar abscess (PTA). This lack of consensus results in highly variable and possibly expensive therapeutic regimens that may not provide optimum quality patient care at reasonable cost. The present study evaluates surgical, medical, diagnostic, and cost factors that affect the management of PTA based on the following: 1. a cohort study of 123 patients with PTA treated using needle aspiration as the initial surgical drainage; 2. a national survey of the PTA management practices of otolaryngologists; and 3. meta-analyses of various components of the treatment regimen for PTA. In the cohort study, patients diagnosed with PTA were treated by both otolaryngologists and emergency medicine specialists with needle aspiration as the primary surgical modality resulting in a 96% acute resolution rate for PTA. In the national survey, questionnaires were sent to 2000 randomly selected members of the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery regarding their management of PTA. The return rate was 73%. Ninety-six percent of the physicians who returned survey forms treated an average of seven PTAs per year using either needle aspiration, incision and drainage, or abscess tonsillectomy to drain the abscess initially. The incidence of PTA in the United States and Puerto Rico among patients 5 to 59 years of age treated by survey practitioners is 30.1 per 100,000 person years, accounting for approximately 45,000 cases per year. Four meta-analyses were completed to quantify the success rate of needle aspiration in the treatment of PTA (94%), the recurrence rate of PTA (10% to 15%), the rate at which penicillin-resistant microorganisms are found in patients with PTA (0% to 56%), and the rate of prior oropharyngeal infections associated with PTA (11% to 56%). The recurrence rate for PTA in the United States is 10%, which is significantly different from the recurrence rate of 15% reported from the rest of the world (P < .002). A clinical intervention for PTA is proposed based on the clinical series, the national survey data, and the meta-analyses. These clinical guidelines recommend that needle aspiration be used as the initial surgical drainage procedure for all patients with a PTA other than those who have indications for abscess tonsillectomy. Patients should be treated in an outpatient setting, should receive penicillin if they are not allergic to it, and should receive adequate pain medication. The evidence does not suggest that there is any benefit in examining the abscess contents for microorganisms. Approximately 30% of patients with PTA can be expected to exhibit relative indications for a tonsillectomy.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Costs and Cost Analysis
  • Drainage* / economics
  • Humans
  • Peritonsillar Abscess / economics
  • Peritonsillar Abscess / surgery*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Recurrence
  • Tonsillectomy