Of 31 children with retropharyngeal abscess treated at this hospital between 1954 and 1990, 17 (55%) were 12 months old or less and 10 (32%) less than 6 months. Three of these 10 children were neonates, only one of whom had a predisposing congenital lesion. Fourteen children (45%) had a preceding upper respiratory illness and four (13%) had a prior history of pharyngeal trauma or ingestion of a foreign body. In children less than 1 year old the clinical presentation was usually classical with fever, neck swelling, stridor, and pharyngeal swelling. Significantly fewer children over 1 year had neck swelling and no child over 3 years old had stridor. A lateral radiograph of the neck, when performed, had a sensitivity of 88% in diagnosis. Bacteria isolated included pure growths of Staphylococcus aureus (25%), klebsiella species (13%), group A streptococcus (8%), and a mixture of Gram negative and anaerobic organisms (38%). There were two deaths. In six cases (24%) the abscess recurred necessitating further surgical drainage.