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December 1997

Relative Incidence and Alternative Approaches for Surgical Drainage of Different Types of Deep Neck Abscesses in Children

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery (Dr Choi) and Diagnostic Imaging and Radiology (Dr Vezina), Children's National Medical Center, George Washington University Medical Center, and the Department of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, Georgetown University Medical Center (Dr Grundfast), Washington, DC.

Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1997;123(12):1271-1275. doi:10.1001/archotol.1997.01900120015002

Objectives:  To determine the relative frequency of retropharyngeal abscesses (RPAs) vs lateral pharyngeal abscesses (LPAs) and to analyze alternative approaches for surgical drainage.

Design:  Retrospective chart review.

Setting:  Tertiary care children's hospital.

Patients:  Seventy pediatric patients who were evaluated, admitted, and treated for presumed deep neck abscesses (RPAs and LPAs) between January 1, 1986, and December 31, 1996.

Intervention:  Intravenous antibiotic therapy and surgical drainage.

Main Outcome Measure:  Clinical resolution of the abscess.

Results:  Fifty-eight patients were evaluated with computed tomographic scan. Thirteen of these patients did not have surgical intervention. Of 12 patients diagnosed as having an isolated RPA, all had intraoral surgical drainage and 9 had evidence of pus at surgery. Twenty-one patients had an isolated LPA. Sixteen of these underwent intraoral drainage and 5 underwent external drainage. Purulence was found at surgery in 14 and 2 patients, respectively. The remaining 12 patients had a combination of RPA and LPA. Eight patients underwent intraoral drainage, and 4 patients required both intraoral and external approaches. Purulence was found at surgery in 5 and 4 patients, respectively. Of the 12 patients who were not evaluated with computed tomographic scan, two thirds were treated prior to 1987. Six of these 12 patients underwent surgical drainage via an intraoral approach, and 4 of the 6 patients had pus. The remaining 6 improved without surgery.

Conclusions:  Most deep neck abscesses in children are located in the retropharyngeal or in the lateral pharyngeal space medial to the great vessels. Therefore, most can be managed successfully with intraoral rather than external drainage. External approaches are better reserved for those abscesses that are lateral to the great vessels or that involve multiple spaces. In this patient population, LPAs were more commonly seen than RPAs.Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1997;123:1271-1275

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