What are possible complications of untreated or incompletely treated tonsillitis?

Updated: Apr 06, 2020
  • Author: Udayan K Shah, MD, FACS, FAAP; Chief Editor: Arlen D Meyers, MD, MBA  more...
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Answer

Untreated or incompletely treated tonsillitis can lead to potentially life-threatening complications. Acute oropharyngeal infections can spread distally to the deep neck spaces and then into the mediastinum. Such complications may require thoracotomy and cervical exposure for drainage. Spread beyond the pharynx is suspected in persons with symptoms of tonsillitis who also have high or spiking fevers, lethargy, torticollis, trismus, or shortness of breath. Radiologic imaging using plain films of the lateral neck or CT scans with contrast is warranted for patients in whom deep neck spread of acute tonsillitis (beyond the fascial planes of the oropharynx) is suspected.


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