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Quinsy: is it Contagious?

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 4 minutes read

Quinsy describes a pocket of infection just next to one of your two tonsils at the back of your throat. Also called a peritonsillar abscess, it’s caused by bacteria and occurs as a rare complication of tonsillitis. It is mainly seen in young people from teenagers up to mid twenty's. It can be serious and requires hospitalisation to treat.

Symptoms to look out for are a sudden worsening sore throat that can be one-sided, which may cause difficulty swallowing or opening your mouth. This can lead to drooling, bad breath, pain in the ear on the side of the quinsy, and you may speak at a very low volume or with minimum movement of the mouth. A high fever usually accompanies this and it is likely you’ll feel unwell.

Is quinsy contagious

While quinsy itself is not contagious, the bacteria causing quinsy (and bacterial tonsillitis) is possible to be spread to others.

The bacteria responsible for causing tonsillitis and potentially leading to quinsy can spread from person to person through respiratory droplets. This can occur when an infected individual coughs, sneezes, or talks, releasing tiny droplets containing the bacteria into the air. These droplets can then be inhaled by others, leading to the transmission of the bacteria and subsequent infection.

Factors that may increase the risk of developing quinsy include:

  1. Untreated tonsillitis - failure to promptly and effectively treat tonsillitis, particularly bacterial tonsillitis, can increase the risk of developing complications such as quinsy.

  2. Poor immune functionality - individuals with weakened immune systems due to conditions such as HIV/AIDS, diabetes, or autoimmune diseases may be more susceptible to developing quinsy.

  3. Tonsil size - enlarged tonsils, often due to chronic inflammation or recurrent infections, can create pockets and crevices where bacteria can thrive, increasing the risk of quinsy.

  4. Previous episodes - A history of previous episodes of tonsillitis or quinsy may predispose individuals to recurrence.

Healthwords pharmacists' top tips

Seek prompt medical attention

If you experience symptoms of quinsy, such as severe sore throat, difficulty swallowing, fever, and swollen glands, seek medical attention promptly. This can be via an urgent visit with your doctor, by calling 111 or by contacting your local emergency department.

Complete antibiotic course

It may seem obvious, but if prescribed antibiotics for quinsy, ensure that you complete the full course as directed by your doctor, even if you start feeling better before finishing the medication. This helps ensure that the infection is completely eradicated and reduces the risk of recurrence or antibiotic resistance.

Practice oral hygiene

Maintain good oral hygiene by brushing your teeth at least twice a day, flossing daily, and using an antiseptic mouthwash such as chlorhexadine. Good oral hygiene can help reduce the risk of bacterial infections that can lead to quinsy.

Stay hydrated and rest

Drink plenty of fluids and get plenty of rest to support your body's immune system in fighting off the infection. Adequate hydration and rest can also help alleviate symptoms such as fever and fatigue associated with quinsy.

Avoid smoking and alcohol

Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, as these can irritate the throat and exacerbate symptoms of quinsy. Smoking can also impair the immune system's ability to fight off infections.

Pain relief

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can help alleviate pain and reduce fever associated with quinsy. Follow the dosage instructions provided on the medication packaging or consult your healthcare provider for guidance.

Avoid close contact

If you have quinsy or are recovering from it, avoid close contact with others, especially those who may be at higher risk of complications from bacterial infections, such as young children, older adults, and individuals with weakened immune systems. You should seek urgent medical attention if your symptoms fit with a quinsy.

Am I fit for work?

You are not fit for work if you have a quinsy.

When should I see my doctor?

The doctor will ask about your symptoms, take your temperature and some basic health measures such as your heart rate and blood pressure. They will look at the back of your throat to see if you have the characteristics of quinsy. If a quinsy is diagnosed, you will be managed in hospital where the vein will give you antibiotics. They will also give you pain relief and fluids by the vein, and they may give you steroids to help with any throat swelling. It is likely you will need the abscess draining in a small surgical procedure while you are awake.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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