Neck infections usually start with a simple cold, which then infects the lymph nodes ("glands") in the neck. The lymph node swells up as a result. It is very common to get some lymph gland swelling when your child has a cold, but occasionally the swelling can be substantial or even turn into an abscess.
This is infection in a lymph node. The child has a swollen, painful lymph node, several centimetres in size. Treatment usually requires admission for intravenous antibiotics. Sometimes, the infection can turn into an abscess, which is when the centre of the lump turns into liquid pus. If this happens, surgery will usually be required to drain the abscess.
Deep neck space infections
These infections are serious infections deep inside the neck. Often they start as a simple cold, which then moves deep inside the neck. It can lead to a parapharyngeal abscess, which is an abscess to the side of the swallowing passages, or a retropharyngeal abscess, which is an abscess behind the swallowing passages and throat. Both are serious infections, and likely require surgery or even admission to intensive care.
If your child develops a painful neck swelling, make sure you attend the Emergency Department or see your GP.
CT scan in a child with a retropharyngeal abscess
Rachael Lawrence MBBS BSc MRCS