Potential life-threatening complication of tonsillectomy: cervicofacial surgical emphysema

A 30-year-old woman presented to the accident and emergency department 3 days post-tonsillectomy with bleeding from the tonsillar fossa and left-sided facial swelling. The patient denied any dysphagia or breathing difficulties but experienced pain on neck movement. On examination, although the bleeding had stopped on reaching the emergency department, a small clot was noted in her left tonsillar fossa. A left facial/submandibular swelling was seen, which had been present since her operation and was slowly enlarging. Flexible nasendoscopy showed a mild left sided oropharyngeal swelling but was otherwise normal. She was treated initially with antibiotics and hydrogen peroxide gargles. After 24 hours of observation and a slight worsening of the swelling she underwent a CT of the neck. This showed widespread indurated subcutaneous surgical emphysema, originating from the left tonsillar bed. Following a period of observation and improvement in her symptoms, she was discharged home with safety netting.

as reported in: BMJ Case Rep. 2019 Jan 20; 12(1):