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What Is a Neck Abscess?

An abscess in the neck.
Antibiotics are commonly used to treat an abscess.
Neck abscesses may be caused by swollen lymph nodes.
There are many possible causes of an abscess in the neck.
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  • Written By: Nat Robinson
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 03 December 2014
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A neck abscess is a collection of pus in the neck. Typically, an abscess is caused by an infection, and as the pus accumulates, the abscess will grow larger and form a mass. This can create other significant problems because uncommonly large neck abscesses can push on other structures in the neck, such as the throat and windpipe, and lead to problems swallowing and breathing.

There are many possible causes of a abscess in the neck. An infection in the head or neck can lead to an abscess, as can an ear infection, the common cold, or a sinus infection. Another possible cause is tonsillitis, an inflammation of the tonsils. If any of these infections extends into the tissues within the neck or throat, an abscess may form.

A common type is a superficial neck abscess, which is typically located right under the skin. It may be caused by an infection in the throat, swollen lymph nodes, or a cold. The most common symptom is an irritated throat, which may appear sore, red, and swollen. Other symptoms can include a fever, chills, stiffness and pain in the neck, and overall feeling unwell.

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A deep neck abscess is commonly located near muscles and blood vessels deep in the neck. All of the symptoms of a superficial abscess may be present with this type, with the addition of more severe neck pain, difficulty swallowing, and neck swelling. If the abscess is particularly large, it could press on the airway and cause breathing problems. Pressure from a large abscess in the neck can also damage nerves in the neck, which may affect movement of the vocal cords.

Antibiotics are typically the first line of defense against an abscess. If antibiotics fail to cure the infection, an abscess drainage will be necessary, which generally means having a surgical incision made to drain the pus from the neck. From this drainage, the medical professional will be able to identify the specific cause of the infection by examining the pus under a microscope. After the exact cause is found, a more specific type of antibiotic will be prescribed as a follow-up treatment.

An individual with a neck abscess should have it evaluated by a healthcare professional as soon as it is discovered. Typically, the medical professional will order blood tests and do a throat culture to gain information on the infection present. The examination may also include more advanced diagnostic tests, such as a computed tomography (CT) scan. This will enable a more detailed look at the abscess and will be able to differentiate an abscess from a cyst or tumor. In some incidences, an individual may be referred to an otolaryngologists or ear, nose, and throat doctor to treat a very large or complex abscess.

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Discuss this Article

anon353015
Post 7

I have had a swelling in my neck for the past year. It was just a small swelling but used to increase if I had a cold, but for the last few weeks pus has been coming out from it. I am scared (the position is in between the tonsil on the surface outside). I have had tonsil problems since my childhood.

anon296360
Post 6

What kind of antibiotics do doctors commonly prescribe for this? If the doctor can't understand my problems, then which antibiotic should be familiar to a doctor for this problem?

anon292457
Post 5

I've had a huge lump on the left side of my throat for over six months now. The lymph nodes all down my throat are swollen and protruding out the side of my neck. My throat is extremely swollen and red and I have white pus all down the back of my throat.

The pain comes and goes, but tonight the pain is so unbearable I can't even sleep. It feels like there are needles in my throat. I've been to the emergency room and the doctors countless times about it in the last six months. I've been on three different kinds of antibiotics and they didn't do anything.

anon177512
Post 4

I was told by the doctor i had to visit the dentist about the lump in my neck, so my dentist said it was defiantly to do with my teeth. pain caused by biting down hard or chewing food is the first sign. but keep your head up and take pain killers when pain is there. Most of all, don't worry. I've been ill for over three months now and I'm 13 so I know how you feel. hope you get better.

lightning88
Post 3

Hello -- I was wondering if it is possible to have a neck abscess in the lymph nodes. In the past few weeks, my neck -- the lymph nodes part -- has gotten just super-swollen, and I was wondering if it could be an abscess.

I have looked up various causes of neck lumps, and although I know it is more likely that the lymph nodes themselves are swollen, I don't have any of the other symptoms that usually accompany swollen lymph nodes, and besides, it doesn't feel like a swollen gland. I know because I used to get really bad swollen glands because of my allergies, and this feels different.

So do you think that this could be an abscess? I am kind of freaked out about it, so if anyone has any information that would be great. I'm going in to see the doctor next week, but I just want to get as much information as I can before hand.

Thank you.

FirstViolin
Post 2

Ooh, these things can be really nasty. My friend got large neck abscess after an ongoing sinus infection, and frankly, that thing was just gross.

It eventually got so large that he went to the doctor to get it drained, and I went with him to hold his hand, and I can tell you, doing that takes nerves of steel!

I guess that doctors get used to it, but for me, seeing all that blood and pus squooshing out was a little much. We're talking a lot of stuff too; it was a really big abscess.

So anyway, although as far as neck lumps go his was pretty good -- you know, not cancer or anything -- but still, talk about disgusting!

Charlie89
Post 1

How can you tell the difference between a neck abscess and other kinds of neck lumps? I have recently been experiencing very swollen nodes on my neck, and am really at a loss to know what the cause is.

I haven't had a sinus infection recently, and I am just really afraid that my neck lump could be a parotid tumor or even a sign of lymphoma.

In fact, as weird as it sounds, at this point I'm kind of hoping for an abscess, you know what I mean?

So is there a way that I could figure out what is going on without going in for a neck biopsy? Any reputable, researched information would be greatly appreciated!

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