Intravenous antibiotic therapy for deep neck abscesses defined by computed tomography

John E McClay, Alan D Murray, Tim Booth
Archives of Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery 2003, 129 (11): 1207-12

OBJECTIVE: To determine the effectiveness of using intravenous antibiotics alone to treat clinically stable children with clearly defined deep neck abscesses diagnosed by contrast-enhanced computed tomography (CT).

DESIGN: Retrospective chart and CT scan review.

SETTING: Tertiary care children's hospital.

PATIENTS: The study comprised clinically stable pediatric patients who presented with signs and symptoms of a deep neck infection and who had CT scans demonstrating an abscess in the parapharyngeal space, retropharyngeal space, or both that included (1) a well-formed ring enhancement around a nonenhancing density consistent with fluid and (2) a size greater than 1 cm in every dimension.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Clinical resolution of the signs and symptoms of the deep neck abscess after treatment with intravenous antibiotics.

RESULTS: Over a 22-month period (May 1999 to March 2001), 11 children ranging in age from 4 months to 16(1/2) years who had contrast-enhanced CT evidence of deep neck abscess and no clinical evidence of severe symptoms or significant airway compromise were initially treated with intravenous antibiotics. Ten (91%) of the 11 children responded to intravenous antibiotic therapy as their only treatment. All 10 responders began to improve clinically by 48 hours. The symptoms resolved in 5 children by treatment day 3. Five to 8 days of treatment were required to completely resolve the symptoms in the other 5 patients. The 1 child who did not respond to intravenous antibiotic therapy underwent surgical drainage of her deep neck abscess within 12 hours of admission, with purulence discovered at the time of surgery.

CONCLUSION: In a select number of clinically stable children, deep neck abscesses diagnosed on contrast-enhanced CT scans using strict radiographic criteria can be effectively treated with intravenous antibiotics alone.

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