Ludwig's angina

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  • Bilateral infection of submental, submandibular, and sublingual spaces
  • Cellulitis without clear fluctuance/abscess should heighten suspicion
  • 85% of cases arise from an odontogenic source, usually mandibular molars
  • Source of infection are polymicrobial most commonly Strep Staphylococcus and Bacteroides species
  • Patients usually 20-60yr; male predominance [1]
  • Often there is noo lymphatic involvement and no abscess formation but infection rapidly spreads bilateraly

Clinical Features

Early Signs

  • Dysphagia
  • Odynophagia
  • Trismus
  • Edema of upper midline neck and floor of mouth
    • Raised tongue
  • "Woody" or brawny texture to floor of mouth with visible swelling and erythema

Late signs

  • Stridor
  • Drooling
  • Trismus
  • Dysphonia
  • Cyanosis

Differential Diagnosis


  • Clinical diagnosis, based on history and physical exam.


  • CT face with contrast will help delineate area of infection
    • Only necessary to obtain imaging if diagnosis is in question - imaging should not delay emergent airway management.
    • Be aware of possibility of respiratory distress/compromise with laying flat for CT scan.
  • CBC
  • Metabolic Panel
  • Blood Cultures
  • Lactate


Airway Management

  • Airway management
  • Preference for an awake Intubation
  • Emergent ENT consult for operative I&D and extraction of dentition if source is dental abscess
  • Intubation may be very difficult due to trismus and posterior pharyngeal extension
    • Consider awake fiberoptic with Anesthesia or ENT back-up with setup for Cricothyrotomy


  • Must cover typical polymicrobial oral flora and tailored based on patient's immune status
  • Most commonly a 3rd generation cehpalosporin + (clindamycin or metronidazole)
  • If the patient is immuncompromised, the antibiotics need to also cover MRSA and gram-negative rods[2]

Immunocompetent Host[3]



  • Admit, usually ICU for airway monitoring

See Also


  1. Buckley M, O’Connor K. Ludwig’s angina in a 76-year-old man. Emerg Med J. 2009;26:679-680
  2. Costain N, Marrie T. Ludwig’s Angina. American Journal of Medicine. Feb 2011. 124(2): 115-117
  3. Barton E, Blair A. Ludwig’s Angina. J Emerg Med. 2008. 34(2): 163-169.
  4. Spitalnic SJ, Sucov A. Ludwig's angina: case report and review. J Emerg Med. 1995;13:499-503