Peritonsillar Abscess: Care Instructions

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Open mouth and throat, showing tongue, tonsils, uvula, and peritonsillar abscess near tonsil.

Your Care Instructions

A peritonsillar abscess is a collection of pus that forms in tissues around one or both of the tonsils. It can occur as a result of strep throat or another infection. An abscess can cause severe pain and make it very hard to swallow.

You will need antibiotics. In some cases, your abscess will have been drained through a needle or small incision.

You may have had a sedative to help you relax. You may be unsteady after having sedation. It can take a few hours for the medicine's effects to wear off. Common side effects of sedation include nausea, vomiting, and feeling sleepy or tired.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • If the doctor gave you a sedative:
    • For 24 hours, don't do anything that requires attention to detail. This includes going to work, making important decisions, or signing any legal documents. It takes time for the medicine's effects to completely wear off.
    • For your safety, do not drive or operate any machinery that could be dangerous. Wait until the medicine wears off and you can think clearly and react easily.
  • Take your antibiotics as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Gargle with warm salt water once an hour to help reduce swelling and relieve discomfort. Use 1 teaspoon of salt mixed in 8 fluid ounces of warm water.
  • Get lots of rest.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions if your abscess was drained through a needle or small incision.
  • While your throat is very sore, use liquid nourishment such as soup or high-protein drinks.
  • Prevent spreading an infection. Wash your hands often, do not sneeze or cough on others, and do not share toothbrushes, eating utensils, or drinking glasses.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have a lot of blood coming from the mouth.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse symptoms of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks coming from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.
  • You are bleeding.
  • You have new or worse nausea or vomiting.
  • You have new or worse trouble swallowing.
  • You have a hard time drinking fluids.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.



The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.