What is quinsy?

What is quinsy?

What is quinsy?

If you’ve ever wondered why your throat is sore, chances are you’ve come across a long list of potential causes ranging from dry air to tonsillitis to glandular fever. Although it’s less well-known, quinsy is another condition that can cause throat pain and inflammation, and might be the reason for any discomfort you’re feeling. 

What is quinsy throat?

Quinsy is a painful condition where an abscess full of pus develops between one of your tonsils and the wall of your throat, which can make it difficult to open your mouth[1]. This abscess is known as a peritonsillar abscess or a quinsy – the two terms are interchangeable. Usually you’ll only get an abscess on one side of your throat, but it is possible to have more than one at a time.

The term peritonsillar abscess might sound daunting, but it just refers to the location of the condition. Peritonsillar means ‘next to your tonsils’, from ‘peri’ (around or near) and the self-explanatory ‘tonsillar’. Similarly, although the term quinsy might sound completely unlike any other term for throat pain, it actually comes from the Greek word for ‘sore throat’. 

While over the counter remedies such as Ultra Chloraseptic’s numbing throat sprays can soothe your sore throat, it is advised that you seek medical attention as soon as you realise you have a peritonsillar abscess. This is because the condition can get worse, particularly if the abscess bursts. A doctor will be able to examine your throat and give you an appropriate treatment to ease the condition. 

What causes quinsy?

If you’ve recently had tonsillitis or a similar infection, quinsy can be caused by the infection spreading to the side of the throat. While peritonsillar abscesses are usually a complication of tonsillitis[2], this isn’t always the case – both bacterial and viral infections can cause the condition. If you suspect you might have quinsy, it’s best to get it checked by a doctor, regardless of whether or not you’ve recently had an infection. 

Although peritonsillar abscesses can affect any age group, they are more common in children and teenagers. Quinsy is classed as one of the most common infections of the head and neck area[3], occurring in about 1 in 10,000 people. Some risk factors make it more likely that you’ll develop a peritonsillar abscess, such as smoking or suffering from gum disease. If you’ve had quinsy before, you can get it again. 

Can you get quinsy if you have no tonsils? 

Although quinsy is often caused by tonsillitis, this isn’t always the case. Peritonsillar abscesses are rare after a person has had their tonsils removed, but not impossible[4]. Some people have developed quinsy after having their tonsils removed without there being any infection in between the two events. This is because a tonsillectomy doesn’t remove all the bacteria from tonsillitis or other infections.

If you get quinsy and you don’t have tonsils, the condition has likely been caused by another infection of the mouth or throat. 

Is quinsy contagious?

Like many conditions caused by bacterial or viral infections, peritonsillar abscesses can be contagious. Pathogens can be spread through the air via coughing, sneezing and anything else that involves saliva. If you have quinsy, the people you live with can be particularly at risk of getting it from you, so you should be extra careful. Here are some things you can do to limit the spread of peritonsillar abscesses and other throat infections[5].


  • Wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds
  • Use a tissue to catch sneezes or coughs
  • Seek medical attention and treatment


  • Kiss anyone while you have quinsy
  • Share dishes, cups, bottles or cutlery with others
  • Share lipsticks or lip balms


[1] https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/conditions/quinsy

[2] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/tonsillitis/#:~:text=Complications%20with%20tonsillitis,is%20called%20quinsy.

[3] Galioto, Nicholas J. “Peritonsillar Abscess.” American family physician vol. 95,8 (2017): 501-506. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28409615/

[4] Farmer, S E J et al. “Peritonsillar abscess after tonsillectomy: a review of the literature.” Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England vol. 93,5 (2011): 353-5. doi:10.1308/003588411X579793 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28409615/

[5] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/tonsillitis/#:~:text=To%20stop%20these,coughing%20or%20sneezing