Actinomycosis is a long-term infection that causes sores, or
abscesses, in the body’s soft tissues. Actinomycosis is usually found in the:
Actinomycosis rarely appears elsewhere in the body. However, it
can spread from the initial infected area to other parts of the body if illness
or injury damages your tissue. Actinomycosis isn’t contagious. It’s primarily
found in the tropical areas of the world.
Are the Symptoms of Actinomycosis?
If your mouth tissue is infected, it can cause what’s commonly
known as “lumpy jaw.” A hard lump can be felt in the jaw. The lump itself isn’t
typically painful. However, it can result in a painful skin abscess that first
appears as a reddish bruise at the site. Actinomycosis can also cause muscle
spasms in the jaw or a “locked jaw.” If this happens, the mouth cannot open in
a normal way.
The other symptoms of actinomycosis are:
on the neck or face
sores on the skin
Actinomycosis is a rare infection, especially in the United
States. Since the infection spreads so slowly, actinomycosis was first thought
to be a fungal infection. But a family of bacteria known as Actinomycetaceae causes it. The bacteria
in this family include:
- Actinomyces naeslundii
- Actinomyces viscosus
- Actinomyces odontolyticus
These bacteria naturally live in your body cavities like your
nose and throat but don’t usually cause infection unless they can break through
the protective lining of your body cavities.
Are the Risk Factors for Actinomycosis?
You have an increased risk of developing actinomycosis if you:
a damaged immune system from medications or another illness
dental care after dental surgery or trauma to the mouth or jaw
One of the most common causes of actinomycosis is an oral or a dental
abscess. If you’ve recently had an oral abscess, you should see your doctor
right away. Women who’ve used an intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control
are also considered at higher risk.
Is Actinomycosis Diagnosed?
Actinomycosis is usually diagnosed through a fluid or tissue
sample from the affected area. Your doctor uses a microscope to check the
sample for Actinomyces bacteria. Any such bacteria appear as
Is Actinomycosis Treated?
Antibiotics are the primary treatment for actinomycosis. High
doses of penicillin are usually necessary to cure the infection. If you’re
allergic to penicillin, your doctor can give you other antibiotics, such as:
It can take up to a year for the antibiotics to completely cure
Any skin eruptions, or abscesses, from the infection may need to
be drained or removed. If you developed actinomycosis due to the use of an IUD,
the device should be removed to prevent further infection.
Notify your doctor immediately if you have the symptoms of
actinomycosis. Early, aggressive treatment decreases your likelihood of developing
long-term complications and requiring surgery.
Actinomycosis starts in the soft tissues of the body, but it can
infect any surrounding bone if it’s left untreated. Surgery may be necessary to
remove any infected bone. If the infection resides in the nasal sinuses,
surgery may be required to remove damaged bone and tissue.
In rare cases, actinomycosis in the nasal sinuses can reach the
brain. This may lead to another serious type of infection called meningitis.
One of the best ways to prevent actinomycosis is to practice good
oral hygiene. Schedule regular visits with your dentist so that they can spot
potential problems. If you get proper treatment for actinomycosis, it’s highly
curable and you’ll likely make a full recovery.