A neck abscess is a collection of pus from an infection in spaces between the structures of the neck. As the amount of pus increases, the soft tissue spaces expand and push against the structures in the neck, such as the throat, tongue, and, in extreme cases, the trachea (windpipe). Neck abscesses are sometimes called cervical abscesses or deep neck infections.
There are several types of neck abscesses that are found in children, including the following:
A neck abscess occurs during or just after a bacterial or viral infection in the head or neck such as a cold, tonsillitis, sinus infection, or otitis media (ear infection). As an infection worsens, it can spread down into the deep tissue spaces in the neck or behind the throat. Pus collects and builds up in these spaces forming a mass. Sometimes, a neck abscess occurs following an inflammation or infection of a congenital (present at birth) neck mass such as a branchial cyst or thyroglossal duct cyst.
The following are the most common symptoms of a neck abscess. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
The symptoms of a neck abscess may resemble other neck masses or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.
Generally, diagnosis is made by physical examination. In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for a neck abscess may include the following:
Specific treatment of a neck abscess will be determined by your child's physician based on:
Your child's age, overall health, and medical history
Extent of the condition
Your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
Expectations for the course of the condition
Your opinion or preference
Treatment may include:
Antibiotic medications (to treat the infection). Often, antibiotics must be given intravenously (in the vein) and hospitalization may be required.
Drainage of the abscess using a needle. This procedure may require hospitalization.
Your child's physician will give specific instructions to help your child's symptoms, which may include gargling and pain-relieving medications.
Our pediatric ENT (otolaryngology) experts provide advanced, comprehensive services for children.
Invest in future cures for some of life's most devastating diseases
Keep in touch with Children's National by signing up for our newsletters.