Introduction 

Quinsy, also known as a peritonsillar abscess, is a rare complication of tonsillitis.

The abscess (collection of pus) forms between one of your tonsils and the wall of your throat. This can happen when an infection spreads from an infected tonsil to the surrounding area.

Read more information about the causes of quinsy.

Symptoms of quinsy can include:

  • a worsening sore throat, usually on one side
  • difficulty opening your mouth
  • pain when swallowing
  • difficulty swallowing, which may lead to drooling saliva
  • changes to your voice or difficulty speaking
  • bad breath
  • earache on the affected side
  • headache and feeling generally unwell
  • swelling around your face and neck
  • a high temperature of 38C (100.4F) or above - although the fever may have gone by the time an abscess appears

When to see your GP

You should see your GP if you have:

  • a bad sore throat, or one that gets worse very quickly
  • severe tonsillitis (infection of the tonsils)

Your GP will ask you about your symptoms and examine your throat and tonsils. Your tonsils are the two small glands found at the back of your throat, behind your tongue.

If quinsy is suspected, you will be referred immediately to an ear, nose and throat specialist who will carry out further investigations. You may be admitted to hospital immediately if you have severe quinsy.

It is important that quinsy is diagnosed and treated quickly to prevent the infection from spreading.

If the abscess grows large enough, it can block your airways and cause breathing difficulties. Therefore, it is important treatment is started as soon as possible.

Treating quinsy

Antibiotics will be recommended to clear the infection and painkillers used to deal with any pain. Pus from the abscess may need to be drained. This may involve having a minor surgical procedure carried out under anaesthetic in hospital.

Read more information about how quinsy is treated.

Preventing tonsillitis

The best way to prevent tonsillitis is to avoid close contact with people who have the viral or bacterial infections that cause the condition.

For example, do not share a toothbrush with someone who has tonsillitis and avoid using the same eating and drinking utensils. Maintain a high level of hygiene by washing your hands regularly with soap and hot water.

Smoking could also possibly increase your risk of quinsy. Read about quitting smoking for information and advice about giving up smoking.

How common is quinsy?

Quinsy is not common. This is because most people with tonsillitis have effective treatment early enough to prevent quinsy from developing. For every 100,000 people with a sore throat, 96 may develop quinsy.

Quinsy most commonly occurs in teenagers and young adults. In England during 2011-12, around 7,000 people were admitted to hospital with quinsy.

Medicines for children

All children have their share of coughs and colds. Find out what medicines you should keep handy

Page last reviewed: 04/12/2012

Next review due: 04/12/2014