Atypical presentations of actinomycosis

Head Neck. 1999 May;21(3):264-8. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1097-0347(199905)21:3<264::aid-hed12>;2-y.


Background: Actinomycotic infections of the cervicofacial region are uncommon. Most major medical centers report approximately one case per year. Presenting clinical manifestations are confusing because they often mimic other disease processes. Diagnosis may be difficult due to a general lack of familiarity with the disease and the fastidious nature of the organism in culture. The cervicofacial manifestations of actinomycosis are varied, and a high index of suspicion is required to make an accurate and timely diagnosis.

Methods: Retrospective chart review with the presentation of four unusual cases of actinomycosis were performed.

Results: Two patients were initially seen with dysphagia from a tongue base mass. The third patient was initially seen with a 3-week history of worsening hoarseness and stridor. Examination revealed an ulcerative lesion of the left hemilarynx and pyriform sinus. All three patients were thought to have a neoplastic process. Diagnosis was made on histologic examination of a tissue biopsy. The fourth patient was initially seen with a buccal space mass that was draining externally. Culture of the purulent drainage revealed Actinomyces. In all four cases, symptoms resolved after appropriate antimicrobial therapy.

Conclusions: Actinomycosis of the head and neck, although rare, is an important entity to the otolaryngologist. A confusing clinical presentation combined with the fastidious nature of the organism make for a difficult diagnosis. A high index of suspicion is required to make an accurate diagnosis and institute the appropriate antibiotic therapy.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Actinomycosis, Cervicofacial / diagnosis*
  • Actinomycosis, Cervicofacial / pathology
  • Biopsy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed