What is a retropharyngeal abscess?

A retropharyngeal abscess is a severe infection deep in the neck, usually in the area behind the throat. Among children, it typically starts in the lymph nodes in the throat. This condition is considered rare and can affect children below 8 years of age, but can also affect older children and even adults.

The infection develops rapidly and can result to serious complications. In severe cases, it can be deadly.


As an unusual infection, it is hard to diagnose. The indications of retropharyngeal abscess include:

  • Fever
  • Difficulty or noisy breathing
  • Drooling
  • Difficulty and pain when swallowing

    Some of the indications of retropharyngeal abscess include fever, throat pain and difficulty breathing.

  • Cough
  • Severe throat pain
  • Neck muscle spasms
  • Neck swelling or stiffness

If any of these symptoms are present, a doctor must be consulted. Seek immediate medical care if difficulty breathing or swallowing is present.

What are the possible causes?

Among children, upper respiratory infections typically arise prior the onset of a retropharyngeal abscess such as sinus infection or middle ear infection.

Among older children and adults, the condition develops after some form of trauma to the area such as injuries, dental work or medical procedures.

Various bacteria might trigger the development of retropharyngeal abscess. Remember that it is common for more than a single bacterium to be present. Among children, the common bacteria include staphylococcus and streptococcus. Other infections such as tuberculosis and HIV can also cause the condition.


The infections are generally treated in a healthcare facility. If the individual has difficulty breathing, oxygen therapy might be recommended by the doctor.

In severe cases, intubation might be needed. During the procedure, the doctor inserts a tube into the windpipe via the nose or mouth to allow breathing. This is only needed until the individual can resume breathing on his/her own.

During this period, the doctor treats the infection intravenously using broad-spectrum antibiotics. These broad-spectrum antibiotics work against various organisms at the same time. The doctor might administer either clindamycin or ceftriaxone.

Since swallowing is disrupted if an individual develops retropharyngeal abscess, intravenous fluids are part of the treatment. In some instances, surgery to drain the abscess especially if the airway is blocked might be required.


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