Background: Tongue swelling often presents as an acute upper airway obstruction.
Aim: To present a case series of patients presenting with an acute tongue swelling sharing our experience in managing these patients.
Subjects and methods: A retrospective analysis of consecutive patients presenting acutely to the emergency department (ED) at two institutions in Scotland. All patients were evaluated by an otolaryngologist for probable causes of tongue swelling. Data were collected on demographics, co-morbidities, clinical history, examination findings, acute airway management and subsequent care the patients needed.
Results: A total of 32 patients (mean age ± STD, 61.6 ± 18.8; 65% male) were included in the study from two teaching hospitals. The most common presenting symptoms were difficulty in speaking (30/32, 94%) and dysphagia (27/32, 84%). Breathing difficulty was only observed in 8 of 32 patients (25%). Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor’s induced angioedema was the most common cause (45%) for acute tongue swelling. Three (9.4%) patients required intubation; 2 (6.3%) on initial presentation. Two patients had emergency tracheostomy for breathing difficulties due to supraglottic swelling on flexible pharyngolaryngoscopy.
Conclusion: Acute tongue swelling is a life-threatening condition. The patients on ACE inhibitors would appear to be at higher risk of developing acute tongue swelling. Such patients with potentially compromised airway need to be treated in a facility where emergency intubation and tracheostomy can be performed at a short notice.