A review of the pathogenesis of adult peritonsillar abscess: time for a re-evaluation

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Abstract

Objectives

To perform a multifactorial exploration of the aetiology of peritonsillar abscess (PTA) in adults, in order to develop greater clinical understanding of the condition and improve management.

Design

A literature review exploring key pathogens, predisposing host factors and current pathogenic hypotheses.

Methods

A PubMed search for articles published between January 1980 and January 2012 using the terms ‘peritonsillar abscess AND microbiology’, ‘peritonsillar abscess AND pathophysiology’ and ‘peritonsillar abscess AND etiology’.

Results

Major pathogens in PTA are opportunistic microflora. Group A streptococcal PTA infections present differently from polymicrobial PTA. A number of host factors influence the conditions required for the pathogenesis of PTA.

Conclusions

PTA is clinically distinct from acute tonsillitis and occurs in people with a chronic underlying susceptibility. Targeting host factors, including oral hygiene, antibiotic use and smoking, may prevent PTA. Re-education of clinicians concerning the aetiology of PTA is necessary for appropriate disease management.

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