What is quinsy? Causes, symptoms treatment, & prevention

Quinsy or a peritonsillar abscess is a rare complication of tonsillitis. The term peritonsillar means the area surrounding the tonsils.

Quinsy is a pus-filled abscess that forms near the tonsils, usually on one side of the throat. In most cases, this potentially serious complication is due to a bacterial infection.

The abscess can be painful and requires immediate medical attention.

Causes of quinsy

Quinsy is often caused by Streptococcus pyogenes, the same bacterium that causes strep throat and many tonsillitis cases.

The infection may spread from the tonsils to the area around them – the peritonsillar space – causing an abscess to form.

Signs and symptoms

  • Throat pain, usually on one side, which can be severe.
  • A muffled voice, difficulty speaking.
  • Bad breath.
  • Chills.
  • Difficulty opening one’s mouth.
  • Difficulty swallowing, pain when swallowing.
  • Drooling.
  • Fever.
  • There may be earache on the affected side.
  • Swelling inside the mouth and throat.
  • Difficulty breathing.

A symptom is something only the patient is aware of while a sign is detectable by the patient and other people. Pain is a symptom while a swelling is a sign.

Diagnosis of quinsy

The doctor will diagnose quinsy based on a physical examination of the patient’s throat and an assessment of their signs and symptoms.

The doctor may order a CT or ultrasound scan to confirm the presence of an abscess. To identify the type of bacterium, they may also take a throat swab or pus sample from the abscess.

Wikipedia image adapted by medicalvocab.com


According to nidirect.gov.uk:

“People with quinsy usually need to be treated in hospital. Depending on how severe the infection is, you may need to stay in hospital for a few days and rest at home for a week or two afterwards.”

  • Antibiotics and painkillers

The doctor will prescribe a course of antibiotics to deal with the bacterial infection. In severe cases, or if oral antibiotics do not work, it may be necessary to administer the medication intravenously.

OTC painkillers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen (paracetamol, Tylenol) may help reduce fever and pain. OTC stands for over the counter. You can buy OTC medications, unlike prescription drugs, without a doctor’s prescription.

  • Abscess drainage

Sometimes, the doctor may have to drain the abscess to alleviate pressure.

  • Keep eating and drinking

Even if you find swallowing difficult or even painful, it is important to stay hydrated and feed yourself properly. You will find soft or liquid foods easier to consume.

  • Tonsillectomy

For patients with recurrent tonsillitis or quinsy, the doctor may recommend surgically removing the tonsils.

Complications of quinsy

If you do not get treatment, the abscess can grow and cause breathing difficulties. The infection may spread to the bloodstream causing sepsis, which is a potentially life-threatening condition.

The infection could spread deeper into the neck if the abscess ruptures. If it reaches the mediastinum, the area between the lungs, it could lead to mediastinitis, a potentially life-threatening condition.

See your doctor if you think you may have tonsillitis, and get it treated. This is the best way to prevent a peritonsillar abscess from developing in your throat.

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