Retropharyngeal abscess (RPA) is an uncommon condition with the potential for significant morbidity and mortality if not detected early. The authors present a case report of a 19-month-old child who presented with the common clinical features of a retropharyngeal abscess and in whom the diagnosis was not established by examination and ultrasonography. This led to a delay in appropriate management until a computed tomography (CT) scan was performed under general anaesthesia. The scan demonstrated the diagnosis and surgical drainage was performed under the same anaesthetic. The child subsequently made a complete recovery. The investigation and treatment of RPAs is a matter of some debate and the authors review the recent literature to determine the best management strategy.