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It is an inflammation at the back or pharynx of the throat. It is usually caused by viral infections and will resolve on its own. However, if it’s not treated it can cause serious complications. The most common acute pharyngitis complications are epiglottitis (also known as a retropharyngeal infection), peritonsillar infections, and retropharyngeal pus.
Epiglottitis can be a very serious condition. It occurs when the epiglottis – a flap or cartilage at the rear of the tongue – becomes inflamed. The swelling can block the airway and cause the patient difficulty breathing. This medical condition requires treatment immediately to avoid airway obstruction. Diagnosis is typically made based on physical examination, including assessment of the patient’s airway, and may be confirmed with a laryngoscopy or CT scan. Hospitalization is required for observation, and the patient will be given anti-inflammatory drugs and antibiotics. Some patients may need intubation for airway maintenance. Patients should be monitored closely for changes to their condition after treatment and told to contact a doctor immediately if there is any breathing difficulty.
The retropharyngeal complication is caused by a pus-filled pocket that forms behind the tongue. It can cause swelling, which puts pressure on the airways and makes it hard for patients to breath. The diagnosis of retropharyngeal infection is made by combining physical exam, imaging tests such as CT or X-rays and lab testing. The abscess may be drained, or the patient will receive antibiotics and pain medication. If the case is severe, the patient might need to be hospitalized and undergo surgical treatment. Patients should be monitored closely for signs of worsening symptoms after treatment and told to contact a doctor immediately if there is any difficulty in breathing or swallowing.
A peritonsillar infection is an unpleasant complication that can occur when an abscess occurs in the surrounding tissues of the tonsils. The abscess can be painful and cause difficulty in swallowing. If it spreads to other tissues, further complications can occur. The peritonsillar infection is detected through physical exam, laboratory test, and imaging studies. The abscess is usually treated with antibiotics and pain medication. If the case is severe, the patient might need to be hospitalized and undergo surgical treatment. Following treatment, the patient should be advised to practice good oral hygiene and avoid smoking. They must also seek immediate medical attention if their symptoms get worse or develop new ones, like a fever.
If left untreated, acute pharyngitis could lead to more serious complications. The most common complications include epiglottitis and retropharyngeal and peritonsillar pus. These require prompt treatment and medical attention. It is important to instruct patients that they should seek immediate medical care if their symptoms worsen or if any new symptoms appear.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Acute pharyngitis. Acute pharyngitis. https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/about/priority/acute-pharyngitis.html