II. Definitions

  1. Retropharyngeal Abscess
    1. Purulent collection between pharynx and Cervical Spine
    2. Typically occurs from Trauma or URI spread to retropharyngeal lymph nodes

III. Epidemiology

  1. Disease of infants and young children (age <4-6 years old)
    1. Young children have prominent retropharyngeal lymph nodes

IV. Pathophysiology

  1. Retropharyngeal lymph nodes not atrophied in children
  2. Accumulation of pus in retropharyngeal space
  3. Mixed aerobic and anaerobic flora

V. Causes: Mechanism

  1. Upper Respiratory Infection (children)
    1. Spreads posteriorly to retropharyngeal lymph nodes
  2. Trauma (adults and children)
    1. Vertebral Fracture
    2. Fish bone ingestion

VII. Symptoms

  1. Neck Pain (out of proportion to findings)
  2. Dysphagia
  3. Odynophagia
  4. Drooling
  5. Fever
  6. Palliative measures
    1. Patients prefer supine position (less encroachment on airway)

VIII. Signs

  1. May be difficult to appreciate pharyngeal fullness
  2. Airway compromise may be present
    1. Respiratory distress (e.g. Tachypnea)
    2. Inspiratory Stridor
    3. Muffled voice or hot potato voice
  3. Torticollis
  4. Trismus

IX. Differential Diagnosis

X. Imaging

  1. Lateral neck XRay
    1. Bulging of posterior pharyngeal wall
    2. Prevertebral soft tissue width increased
      1. C2 level prevertebral space >7 mm (adults and children)
      2. C6 level prevertebral space >14 mm (children) or >22 mm (adults)
  2. CT Neck
    1. May demonstrate abscess extent

XI. Management

  1. Hospitalize
  2. Airway observation
  3. Intravenous Antibiotics
    1. Clindamycin 600-900 mg IV every 8 hours OR
    2. Penicillin G 24 MU every 24 hours AND Metronidazole 1 g IV every 12 hours OR
    3. Piperacillin-Tazobactam (Zosyn) 3.375 g IV every 6 hours OR
    4. Ampicillin-Sulbactam (Unasyn) 3 g IV every 6 hours
  4. Early, emergent ENT Consultation for surgical drainage
    1. Incision and Drainage in operating room

XII. Complications

  1. Airway obstruction (most common fatal complication)
  2. Atlantoaxial separation (transverse ligament erosion)
  3. Carotid Artery erosion
  4. Jugular Vein thrombosis
    1. Secondary risk of septic Thrombophlebitis (and Lemierre Syndrome)
  5. Mediastinitis
  6. Meningoencephalitis
  7. Esophageal Perforation
  8. Horner Syndrome
  9. Cranial Nerve palsy (CN 9, CN 10, CN 11, CN 12)

XIV. References

  1. Aldden and Rosenbaum (2017) Emergency Medicine Board Review, Wolters Kluwer
  2. (2019) Sanford Guide, accessed 6/27/2019

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Ontology: Retropharyngeal Abscess (C0155843)

Definition (MSH) An accumulation of purulent material in the space between the PHARYNX and the CERVICAL VERTEBRAE. This usually results from SUPPURATION of retropharyngeal LYMPH NODES in patients with UPPER RESPIRATORY TRACT INFECTIONS, perforation of the pharynx, or head and neck injuries.
Concepts Disease or Syndrome (T047)
MSH D017703
ICD9 478.24
SnomedCT 18099001
English Retropharyngeal Abscess, Abscess, Retropharyngeal, Abscesses, Retropharyngeal, Retropharyngeal Abscesses, retropharyngeal abscess, retropharyngeal abscess (diagnosis), Retro-pharyngeal abscess, Retro-pharyngeal abscess NOS, retropharyngeal abscess (physical finding), Retropharyngeal Abscess [Disease/Finding], abscess retropharyngeal, Retropharyngeal abscess, Retropharyngeal abscess (disorder), abscess; retropharyngeal, retropharyngeal; abscess
Swedish Retrofaryngeal abscess
Czech retrofaryngeální absces, Retrofaryngeální absces, Retrofaryngeální absces NOS
Finnish Retrofaryngeaalinen absessi
Spanish Absceso retro-faríngeo, Absceso retrofaríngeo, Absceso retrofaríngeo NEOM, absceso retrofaríngeo (trastorno), absceso retrofaríngeo, Absceso Retrofaríngeo
Italian Ascesso retrofaringeo NAS, Ascesso retrofaringeo
French Abcès rétropharyngé SAI, Abcès rétropharyngé, Abcès rétro-pharyngé, Abcès rétro-pharyngien, Abcès rétropharyngien
Dutch retrofaryngeaal abces NAO, retrofaryngeaal abces, abces; retrofaryngeaal, retrofaryngeaal; abces, Abces, retrofaryngeaal, Retrofaryngeaal abces
German Retropharyngealabszess, retro-pharyngealer Abszess NNB, Abszeß, retropharyngealer, Retropharyngealabszeß
Portuguese Abcesso retrofaríngeo NE, Abcesso retrofaríngeo, Abscesso Retrofaríngeo
Japanese インコウノウヨウ, 咽後膿瘍NOS, インコウノウヨウNOS, 咽後膿瘍, 咽頭後膿瘍, 後咽頭膿瘍, 膿瘍-咽後, 膿瘍-咽頭後, 膿瘍-後咽頭
Polish Ropień pozagardłowy
Hungarian Retro-pharyngealis abscessus, Retro-pharyngealis abscessus k.m.n., retropharyngealis tályog
Norwegian Retrofaryngeal abscess