Parapharyngeal and retropharyngeal infections in children: Argument for a trial of medical therapy and intraoral drainage for medical treatment failures

Douglas Johnston, Richard Schmidt*, Patrick Barth

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Objective: To review the outcomes of parapharyngeal infections (PPI) and retropharyngeal infections (RPI) in children after medical and surgical management. Methods: The charts of all children who presented to a tertiary-care pediatric hospital between March 2005 and February 2007 with a diagnosis of parapharyngeal infection or retropharyngeal infection were reviewed. Thirty-two patient records were analyzed. Results: The mean age of our patients was 4.4 years, 63% of whom were boys. The majority of patients presented during the winter months with some combination of fever, neck stiffness, and neck swelling. Ten patients had surgery less than 1 day after admission (early surgical intervention). Twenty-two patients were given a trial of at least 24 h of intravenous (IV) antibiotics (medical trial group), nine of whom were treated exclusively with IV antibiotics (medical therapy alone). The remaining 13 patients failed medical therapy, and went on to surgical drainage (late surgical intervention). All patients requiring surgical drainage were treated successfully with an intraoral approach. Patients given a trial of IV antibiotics had an average hospital stay of 3.3 days (3.0 days for medical therapy alone and 3.5 days for late surgical intervention). Patients with early surgical intervention stayed 2.7 days. All patients were discharged home with oral antibiotics. There was no statistically significant difference in the length of stay between the medical trial and early intervention groups. Those who failed medical therapy had significantly larger abscesses than those who responded to medical therapy (1.53 versus 5.38 cm2). Conclusions: A trial of IV antibiotics does not adversely affect outcome and may obviate the need for surgery, particularly for patients with smaller abscesses. When surgery is required, an intraoral procedure is usually adequate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)761-765
Number of pages5
JournalInternational Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2009


  • Intravenous antibiotics
  • Outcomes
  • Parapharyngeal space infection
  • Retropharyngeal space infection
  • Surgery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Otorhinolaryngology


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