Ludwig's angina is an infection of the floor of the mouth underneath the tongue that is due to bacteria.
Submandibular space infection; Sublingual space infection
Ludwig's angina is a type of cellulitis that involves the floor of the mouth, under the tongue. It often occurs after an infection of the roots of the teeth (such as tooth abscess) or a mouth injury.
This condition is uncommon in children.
Swelling of the tissues occurs quickly. It may block the airway or prevent you from swallowing saliva.
- Breathing difficulty
- Confusion or other mental changes
- Neck pain
- Neck swelling
- Redness of the neck
- Weakness, fatigue, excess tiredness
Other symptoms that may occur with this disease:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Speech that is unusual and sounds like the person has a "hot potato" in the mouth
Exams and Tests
An examination of the neck and head shows redness and swelling of the upper neck, under the chin. The swelling may reach to the floor of the mouth. The tongue may be swollen or out of place.
A CT scan of the neck may be recommended. Culture of fluid from the tissues may show bacteria.
If the swelling blocks the airway, emergency medical help is needed to maintain an open airway. This may involve placing a breathing tube through the mouth or nose and into the lungs, or surgery called a tracheostomy that creates an opening through the neck into the windpipe.
Antibiotics, usually penicillin or a penicillin-like medication, are given to fight the infection. They are usually given through a vein until symptoms go away. Antibiotics taken by mouth may be continued until tests show that the bacteria have gone away.
Dental treatment may be needed for tooth infections that cause Ludwig's angina.
Surgery may be needed to drain fluids that are causing the swelling.
Ludwig's angina can be life threatening. However, it can be cured with proper protection of the airways and appropriate antibiotics.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Breathing difficulty is an emergency situation. Immediately go to the emergency room or call your local emergency number (such as 911).
Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of this condition, or if symptoms do not improve after treatment.
Regular visits to the dentist, and prompt treatment of mouth or tooth infections can prevent the conditions that increase the risk of developing Ludwig's angina.
Melio FR. Upper respiratory tract infections. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier;2009:chap 73.
Christian JM. Odontogenic infections. In: Cummiongs CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier;2010:chap 12.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine; and Seth Schwartz, MD, MPH, Otolaryngologist, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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