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 periapical abscesses of mandibular molars
  • Source of infection often polymicrobial, most commonly Strep, Staphylococcus, and Bacteroides species
  • Patients usually 20-60yr; male predominance [1]
  • Often there is no lymphatic involvement and no abscess formation but infection rapidly spreads bilaterally

Clinical Features

Swelling in the submandibular area in a person with Ludwig's angina.
Significant submandibular swelling and discoloration typical in Ludwig's Angina

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
  • Tongue protrusion
  • Trismus
  • Dysphonia
  • Cyanosis
  • Acute laryngospasm


Differential Diagnosis

Acute Sore Throat

Bacterial infections

Viral infections




  • 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 or transfer to OR for definitive care
    • Be aware of possibility of respiratory distress/airway compromise with laying flat for CT scan
  • CBC
  • Chem
  • Lactate
  • Blood Cultures


  • Emergent ENT or OMFS consult for operative I&D and extraction of dentition if source is dental abscess

Airway Management

  • Intubation may be very difficult due to trismus and posterior pharyngeal extension
  • Preference for an awake fiberoptic intubation (ideally in OR if time allows) with setup immediately available 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[3]

Immunocompetent Host[4]



  • 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. Melio, Frantz, and Laurel Berge. “Upper Respiratory Tract Infection.” In Rosen’s Emergency Medicine., 8th ed. Vol. 1, n.d.
  3. Costain N, Marrie T. Ludwig’s Angina. American Journal of Medicine. Feb 2011. 124(2): 115-117
  4. Barton E, Blair A. Ludwig’s Angina. J Emerg Med. 2008. 34(2): 163-169.
  5. Spitalnic SJ, Sucov A. Ludwig's angina: case report and review. J Emerg Med. 1995;13:499-503