What is a retropharyngeal abscess (RPA)?

Updated: Jan 08, 2021
  • Author: Joseph H Kahn, MD; Chief Editor: Gil Z Shlamovitz, MD, FACEP  more...
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Retropharyngeal abscess (RPA) produces the symptoms of sore throat, fever, neck stiffness, and stridor. RPA occurs less commonly today than in the past because of the widespread use of antibiotics for suppurative upper respiratory infections. The incidence of RPA in the United States is rising, however. Once almost exclusively a disease of children, RPA is observed with increasing frequency in adults. It poses a diagnostic challenge for the emergency physician because of its infrequent occurrence and variable presentation. [1]  Emergency department (ED) management of retropharyngeal abscess includes attention to the airway, fluid resuscitation if necessary, antibiotic treatment, and preparation for an emergency operation, if indicated.

Early recognition and aggressive management of RPA are essential because it still carries significant morbidity and mortality.

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