An abscessed tonsil, more technically referred to as a tonsillar or peritonsillar abscess, may start to produce symptoms as much as a week before the formation of the actual abscess. The first symptom is generally sore throat and difficulty swallowing, followed by other symptoms as the condition progresses untreated. Externally, an abscessed tonsil may cause swelling of the face or throat area, enlarged lymph nodes, and uvulas that seem pushed off to the side. Patients may also experience a muffled or "hot potato" voice, in which they have trouble pronouncing certain vowel sounds, secondary ear pain, drooling, and halitosis.
Patients with an abscessed tonsil will usually start to experience a sore throat anywhere from two to eight days before the actual abscess forms. The sore throat may be mild at first, but it will become progressively worse and will generally tend to become focused on the side of throat containing the abscess. Along with this typically comes difficulty or pain when swallowing, which may or may not extend to the ear. In addition, pain when chewing or opening the mouth at all is especially symptomatic of tonsillar abscesses as opposed to tonsillitis only.
If left untreated, an abscessed tonsil will eventually cause a patient to fall ill by the time the abscess has formed. Fever and chills are common symptoms during this time, as well as headache and general malaise. The initial soreness surrounding the throat may expand to pain and tenderness in the jaw, neck, and sometimes the face. In addition, the initial ear pain may become focused towards the side on which the abscess has formed.
On an external level, patients with the above symptoms will most often experience swelling in the neck, and sometimes in the face or jaw area. Tender and swollen lymph nodes that are reacting to the infection usually accompany this, and it will typically be possible to feel them on the neck. In the back of the mouth, an abscessed tonsil will usually cause swelling on one side of the throat to the extent that the uvula will appear pushed off to the opposite side.
This same swelling will also lead to "hot potato" voice in many patients, named so because of a muffled characteristic in the voice in which patients may have trouble pronouncing certain vowels. The effect is as if their mouths were full of hot potato. Tonsillar abscesses may also cause drooling and halitosis, which refers to severe bad breath due to the infected tissue lying in the back of the throat.