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BACKGROUND: Peritonsillar abscess is a common infection presenting as a collection of pus in the peritonsillar area. The condition is characterised by a severe sore throat, difficulty in swallowing and pain on swallowing, fever and malaise, and trismus. Needle aspiration and incision and drainage are the two main treatment modalities currently used in the treatment of this condition. The effectiveness of one versus the other has not been clearly demonstrated and remains an area of debate. OBJECTIVES: To assess the effectiveness and risks of needle aspiration versus incision and drainage for the treatment of peritonsillar abscess in older children (eight years of age or older), adolescents and adults. SEARCH METHODS: The Cochrane ENT Information Specialist searched the ENT Trials Register; Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL 2016, Issue 7); Ovid MEDLINE; Ovid Embase; CINAHL; Web of Science;; ICTRP and additional sources for published and unpublished trials. The date of the search was 25 August 2016. SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised controlled trials comparing needle aspiration with incision and drainage. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: We used the standard methodological procedures expected by Cochrane. Our primary outcomes were recurrence rate (proportion of patients needing repeat intervention) and adverse effects associated with the intervention. Secondary outcomes were time to resumption of normal diet, complications of the disease process and symptom scores. We used GRADE to assess the quality of evidence for each outcome; this is indicated in italics. MAIN RESULTS: We included 11 studies (674 participants). The risk of bias was high or unclear in all of the included studies. All studies compared needle aspiration to incision and drainage.All but one of the 11 studies reported on the primary outcome of recurrence. When we pooled data from the 10 studies the recurrence rate was higher in the needle aspiration group compared with incision and drainage: risk ratio (RR) 3.74 (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.63 to 8.59; 612 participants). We detected moderate heterogeneity in this analysis (I2 = 48%). In interpreting the pooled result it is important to note that the evidence for this outcome was of very low quality.None of the other outcomes (adverse effects of the intervention, time to resumption of normal diet, complications of the disease process and symptom scores) were consistently measured across all studies.Only three studies reported on adverse effects/events associated with the intervention and only one such event in a single patient was reported (post-procedure bleeding following incision and drainage: 1/28, 3.6%) (very low-quality evidence). Time to resumption of normal diet was compared in two studies; neither found an obvious difference between needle aspiration and incision and drainage (very low-quality evidence).Only three studies stated that they would report complications of the disease process. In these three studies, the only complication reported was admission to hospital for dehydration in two patients who underwent incision and drainage (2/13, 6.7%). Symptom scores were measured in four studies; three evaluated pain using different scales and one other symptoms. The data could not be pooled in a meta-analysis. Two studies evaluating procedural pain reported this to be lower in the needle aspiration groups. One study found comparable rates of pain resolution at five days post-intervention between groups. The quality of the evidence for symptom scores was very low. AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: Although a number of studies have sought to evaluate whether or not needle aspiration or incision and drainage is more effective in patients with peritonsillar abscess, there is no high-quality evidence to allow a firm conclusion to be drawn and the answer remains uncertain. Very low-quality evidence suggests that incision and drainage may be associated with a lower chance of recurrence than needle aspiration. There is some very low-quality evidence to suggest that needle aspiration is less painful.

Original publication




Journal article


Cochrane Database Syst Rev

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Adolescent, Adult, Child, Drainage, Eating, Humans, Needles, Peritonsillar Abscess, Recurrence, Retreatment, Suction, Symptom Assessment, Time Factors