Variability in advanced imaging of pediatric neck infections in US emergency departments

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



American Journal of Emergency Medicine






Computed tomography; Medical imaging; Neck infections; Pediatrics; Ultrasound


Objectives: To describe the use of computed tomography (CT) and ultrasound (US) imaging for the evaluation of neck infections in pediatric patients in United States emergency departments (EDs). Methods: This is a cross-sectional analysis, using the National Emergency Department Sample database, of pediatric patients evaluated for common neck infections between 2012 and 2018. We used bivariable analysis to assess for differences in US and CT use by ED type. We performed multivariable logistic regression to adjust for potential confounding factors including patient characteristics (sex, age, insurance status, discharge diagnosis) and ED characteristics (metropolitan statistical area, pediatric center). Results are reported as odds ratios and adjusted odds ratios with 95% confidence intervals. Results: There were 19,363 ED visits for pediatric neck infections in the database over the study period, representing 84,439 national visits. Of those imaged, 80.8% were imaged with CT and 19.2% were imaged with US. Pediatric patients evaluated in general EDs as compared to pediatric EDs (aOR 5.32, 95% CI 3.06, 9.24) and patients with a diagnosis of peritonsillar abscess (aOR 2.11, 95% CI 1.34, 3.33) and retropharyngeal abscess (aOR 6.12, 95% CI 2.14, 17.53) were more likely to be imaged with CT scan. Conclusions: Children with neck infections evaluated in general EDs are significantly more likely to undergo CT scans when compared to those evaluated in pediatric EDs. To reduce exposure to radiation in children, we propose the dissemination of US-first protocols in general EDs for the evaluation of pediatric neck infections.