Pronounced: Eh-pea-glot-eye-tisEn Español (Spanish Version)
Epiglottitis is the severe swelling of the epiglottis. The epiglottis is a flap like, cartilage structure, located in the throat. During swallowing, the epiglottis folds over the windpipe and vocal chords to prevent food and liquids from entering the lungs. Swelling can quickly seal off a person’s airway making it difficult for them to breathe. Epiglottitis is rare and requires immediate medical attention, as it can quickly turn deadly. If you think you, your child, or someone you know has epiglottitis, go to the emergency room immediately.
© 2011 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
Factors that can cause epiglottitis include:
Bacterial infections usually cause epiglottitis. In the past, Hib most frequently caused epiglottitis. However, since vaccination against this virus was started in children, it has actually become more prevalent among adults than children.
Epiglottitis is a contagious disease. It is passed much like the common cold , through droplets released when sneezing and coughing. Anyone can develop epiglottitis, however the following factors can increase a person’s risk:
Epiglottitis is a rare disease. If you or your child experiences any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to epiglottitis. These symptoms may be caused by other, less serious health conditions. However, if you experience any one of them, see your physician.
Symptoms appear suddenly and worsen quickly.
Note: Do not attempt to use a tongue depressor or any other utensil to look into the person’s throat. A throat spasm could occur and cause the airway to close completely.
When you arrive at the hospital, the doctor will first make sure you are able to breathe. Once this is affirmed, the doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. If you are not having trouble breathing, the doctor may use a mirror to look down your throat. Usually, initial diagnosis and testing are based on the reported symptoms.
Tests that may be run include:
The doctor will first stabilize your airway and then give proper medication depending on the cause. You may also have secondary illnesses that need to be treated depending on the cause of the epiglottitis (eg, blood infections due to Streptococcus ).
If you CAN breathe, you will be closely monitored in the intensive care unit.
If you CANNOT breathe, the options include:
After the airway is stabilized, you will be monitored and started on medications, including:
Once swelling decreases, the breathing tube can be removed. Usually, there are not any lasting side effects of epiglottitis, and the outlook is good.
If you are diagnosed with epiglottitis, follow your doctor's instructions .
Vaccination is the only way to prevent epiglottitis. There are three different vaccines that can be given (HbOC, PRP-OMP, and PRP-T). Currently, infants born in the US are given one of these vaccines at two months of age. Since vaccination began, adults have been at even lower risk of developing epiglottitis. However, if you are immune compromised or on medications that may make you more susceptible to illness, speak with your doctor about the possibility of getting vaccinated. An antibiotic (ie, rifampin) may be prescribed for post-exposure coverage for:
Last reviewed September 2011 by Elie Edmond Rebeiz, MD, FACS
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.