Deep neck infections in children: a new approach to diagnosis and treatment

M Nagy, M Pizzuto, J Backstrom, L Brodsky
Laryngoscope 1997, 107 (12 Pt 1): 1627-34
Forty-seven children presented with the diagnosis of a deep neck infection--either cellulitis or abscess--between January 1991 and July 1996. Forty-four (94%) had contrast-enhanced computed tomography (CT) imaging consistent with this diagnosis. Three patients with no CT scan had confirmation of an abscess at surgical drainage. Parenteral antibiotics alone were effective in the treatment of 24 of 47 infections (51%): seven parapharyngeal, one retropharyngeal, and 16 combined. By CT scan these infections represented cellulitis in 17 of 24 (71%), an abscess in three of 24 (13%), and incomplete abscess in four of 24 (17%). The average duration of hospitalization for this group was 4.8 days, with symptomatic improvement usually seen within 24 hours. Surgical drainage was performed on 23 of 47 infections (49%): three parapharyngeal, 17 combined, and three of unknown specific location. In 22 of these 23 children (96%), transoral drainage of the abscess was used as the primary surgical approach. In 21 of these 22 (95%) there was complete resolution without complications or recurrence; one abscess required a subsequent external approach. CT scanning with contrast revealed that all deep neck infections were located medial (usually anteromedial) to the great vessels. Abscesses with volumes estimated to be greater than 2000 mm3 were more likely to undergo surgery, but these differences were not statistically significant. The use of contrast-enhanced CT scanning provides information regarding abscess size, location, and relative position of the great vessels for safe and successful transoral drainage. Thus we recommend CT-assisted transoral drainage for combined retropharyngeal/parapharyngeal abscesses and selected isolated parapharyngeal abscesses that do not respond to parenteral antibiotics.

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