What Are the Common Causes of Pus in the Throat?

A crossection of the human head, including the throat.
Proper antibiotic therapy can often treat the underlying cause for pus in the throat.
Getting antibiotics from a doctor may be necessary.
A sore throat commonly accompanies pus in the throat.
Article Details
  • Written By: J. Beam
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 July 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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While the symptom itself may sound rather gruesome, pus in the throat is a sign of some type of infection. Often noted by a physician during a physical exam of the neck, pus in the spaces inside the head and neck or throat can often be felt in the form of swollen lymph nodes. Commonly referred to as an abscess, pus accumulations are comprised of fluid with bacteria, dead cells, and other matter inside. The two most common types of accumulated pus in the throat are peritonsillar abscess and retropharyngeal abscess.

A peritonsillar abscess is an accumulation of pus around the area of the tonsils, which are the lymph organs located at the back of the throat. Sometimes referred to as quinsy, this type of abscess is most common in older children and adolescents. A retropharyngeal abscess is an accumulation of pus behind the pharynx. Often a symptom of upper respiratory infections, this type of abscess is more common in young children or those whose lymph organs are especially large.

Pus in the throat is considered a complication or secondary symptom of a primary problem. Tonsillitis, strep throat, meningitis, or another type of infection may result in pus, especially if left untreated or treated with an antibiotic to which the bacteria do not respond.


Diagnosis of abscesses in the neck region typically begins with physical examination and recent medical history. Swollen lymph nodes can be felt and visual examination of the throat often reveals any abscesses. Symptoms likely to be present leading up to and during infection include fever, chills, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, facial swelling, and pain or tenderness around the jaw and throat. Further testing, such as throat cultures, bloodwork, or biopsy may be ordered by the treating physician.

If an infection is caught early and little to no accumulation of pus in the throat is found, an antibiotic may prove to be sufficient treatment. Large or unresponsive abscesses usually require lancing and draining in addition to antibiotic treatment. If the tonsils or even adenoids show chronic signs of infection or enlargement, it may be necessary to have the offending organs surgically removed.

As a general rule, most infections of the throat are not severe, however a sore throat lasting more than three days or accompanied by a fever, chills, inability to swallow or other pain should be examined by a doctor. Do not take pain medication for a sore throat lasting more than three days unless directed by a physician. The earlier an infection is caught, the less severe the secondary symptoms will be and the quicker and easier it will be to treat.


Discuss this Article

Post 3

I can't even imagine having to have an abscess in my throat lanced to get rid of the pus. I've had to have that done elsewhere and it is incredibly painful, not to mention gross.

I guess that is one of the downfalls of modern medicine like painkillers. They can mask the fact that you've got something seriously wrong and let it continue long enough to become a real problem.

Post 2

@pleonasm - I hope that you are taking the medication properly and not stopping it as soon as you feel better. Sometimes people won't take the full course of antibiotics and then they get sick again later on because the bacteria are still lingering in their system.

Post 1

Whenever I catch strep throat I end up with white pus on my tonsils. I seem to get it every couple of years and it is really awful. I always feel like I'm too exhausted to move and my throat is so painful I can barely swallow.

The first time I had it I thought it was just a normal flu and didn't go to the doctor until it got really bad. It took a long time for the medication to work. Now I'm pretty paranoid about checking my throat if I'm starting to feel sick. Any signs at all of white or swelling and I go to the doctor straight away.

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