Photo Rounds

Swollen neck

A swollen, red, and painful neck prompted a 51-year-old man to seek medical attention. The patient had been living on the streets and in various shelters for 2 years and drank more than 6 beers a day when he had the money to do so. His temperature was 100.1° F, blood pressure was 156/98 mm Hg, and pulse was 102 beats per minute. He had poor dentition with what appeared to be a dental abscess of the right lower anterior molar.

What's your diagnosis?


The physician recognized that his patient had a neck abscess that was likely related to a dental abscess (odontogenic abscess). The patient’s alcoholism most likely weakened his ability to fight the infection, causing it to become potentially life-threatening. Risk factors for abscess formation include intravenous drug abuse, alcoholism, homelessness, dental disease, contact sports, and incarceration.

The physician transferred the patient to the local emergency department for hospitalization under the care of the ear, nose, and throat (ENT) service. The ENT physicians drained the abscess in the operating room without any complications. They cultured the abscess and started the patient on appropriate antibiotics, including penicillin G for dental aerobes and anaerobes.

The hospital team observed the patient for signs of alcohol withdrawal, but there were no complications because the patient hadn’t been drinking for the 5 days prior to hospitalization. Social Services was consulted and the patient was discharged to a respite bed in a local shelter that also had an alcohol and drug rehabilitation program. Arrangements were made for dental work in a charity dental clinic.

Photos and text for Photo Rounds Friday courtesy of Richard P. Usatine, MD. This case was adapted from: Usatine R. Abscess. In: Usatine R, Smith M, Mayeaux EJ, et al, eds. Color Atlas of Family Medicine. 2nd ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill;2013:698-701.

To learn more about the Color Atlas of Family Medicine, see:

You can now get the second edition of the Color Atlas of Family Medicine as an app by clicking on this link:

Next Article: