What is it? What are the symptoms? What are the treatments?

What is quinsy?

The medical term for quinsy is peritonsillar abscess. It's an uncommon complication of tonsillitis that can happen when a throat abscess develops after infection spreads from the tonsils. If the abscess grows large enough, it can block the airways, causing breathing difficulties, so it's important it's treated early. The reason quinsy is uncommon these days, is because antibiotics are usually given to people with tonsillitis to prevent secondary complications from arising.

When it does occur, it mostly is seen in teenagers and young adults.

What are the symptoms of Quinsy?

The main symptom is a sore throat that gets gradually worse, usually only on one side. Other symptoms include:

  • Fever (temperature of 38°C or above)
  • difficulty or pain on swallowing
  • 'hot potato' voice, sounding as though you're speaking with a - hot potato in your mouth
  • difficulty opening your mouth
  • bad breath
  • earache
  • headache
  • swelling on the affected side
  • dehydration because of difficulty swallowing

What are the treatments and remedies of Quinsy?

Quinsy needs prompt treatment, often in hospital. The abscess may be drained or a sample of pus taken through a needle for analysis. Antibiotics will be given, intravenously if necessary, so they get into the bloodstream and start working more quickly. Painkillers will also be given. You'll be seen by an ear, nose and throat (ENT) consultant who will monitor the recovery. Sometimes medicines called steroids are used to help reduce the swelling and make swallowing easier. In severe cases, or if you suffer from repeated bouts of tonsillitis, a tonsillectomy (surgical removal of the tonsils) will be performed. In around 15% of cases of quinsy, the abscess comes back. Some people may choose to have a tonsillectomy to prevent a quinsy returning. Full recovery usually takes a couple of weeks.

This guide 

The information in this Bounty A-Z of Family Health is not a substitute for an examination, diagnosis or treatment by a doctor, midwife, health visitor or any other qualified health professional. If in doubt, always speak to a doctor.

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Further help

For health advice and information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the NHS offers call and web services. You can also visit NHS websites for services, health information and health news at nhs.uk 

  • England – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs.uk 
  • Scotland – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs24.com 
  • Wales – call 0845 4647 , or visit nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk 
  • Northern Ireland – visit hscni.net