Objective: With improvement in economic and social conditions and the use of effective anti-tubercular therapy, the developed nations, and most developing nations, have enjoyed a decline in tuberculosis for several decades. It is now seen that extra-pulmonary presentations form a major proportion of new cases, especially since the advent of the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome epidemic. Therefore, it is important that otolaryngologists are aware of tuberculosis in the head and neck region and its varied manifestations. We report the increased incidence of isolated head and neck tuberculosis, its various presentations and clinical manifestations over a 10-year period.
Materials and methods: A 10-year (1995–2004), retrospective study was undertaken by the department of otolaryngology and head and neck surgery, Kasturba Medical College, and its allied hospitals, Mangalore, South India, involving a group of 165 patients with head and neck tuberculosis. Each patient underwent a detailed clinical examination and a battery of investigations. Most patients were treated with anti-tubercular therapy alone; others required surgical intervention followed by Anti-tubercular therapy (ATT). In addition, those with human immunodeficiency virus infection or malignancy were treated with anti-retroviral therapy and radiotherapy, respectively.
Results: Of the 165 cases, 121 (73.3 per cent) had isolated tubercular lymphadenitis, 24 (14.5 per cent) had laryngeal tuberculosis, four (2.4 per cent) had tubercular otitis media, three (1.8 per cent) had tuberculosis of the cervical spine, three (1.8 per cent) had tuberculosis of the parotid, eight (5 per cent) had tuberculosis of the oral cavity, one had tuberculosis of the temporo-mandibular joint and one had tuberculosis of the nose. Fine needle aspiration cytology was highly effective in the diagnosis of tubercular lymphadenitis (92 per cent) but not so for other sites. The purified protein derivative (PPD) test was positive in only 20 per cent of cases. Pus for culture and sensitivity was positive only in caries of the spine and mandibular tuberculosis. Excision biopsy and histopathological examination were required to make a diagnosis in tuberculosis of the oral and nasal cavities, salivary glands, ear, temporo-mandibular joint, and mandible. There were 40 cases (24.2 per cent) with coexisting pulmonary tuberculosis and five cases (3 per cent) with coexisting malignancy. Of the 65 patients who were tested, 30 per cent were found to have coexisting human immunodeficiency virus infection.
Conclusion: In addition to cervical lymphadenitis, tuberculosis in the head and neck region can produce isolated disease in the oral cavity, ear, salivary glands, temporo-mandibular joint, nose and larynx. Seventy-five per cent of our head and neck tuberculosis patients did not have pulmonary involvement. Fine needle aspiration cytology was highly effective in the diagnosis of nodal tuberculosis, but histopathological examination was required to make the diagnosis in other head and neck sites. The PPD test was not effective as a diagnostic tool. If the otolaryngologist maintains a high index of suspicion, an early diagnosis can be made with the help of simple investigations. Successful outcome depends upon appropriate chemotherapy and timely surgical intervention when necessary.