Epiglottitis (severe throat infection)

Throat | Emergency Medicine | Epiglottitis (severe throat infection) (Disease)


Epiglottitis is an inflammation of the epiglottis — the flap at the base of the tongue that keeps food from going into the trachea (windpipe). Due to its place in the airway, swelling of this structure can interfere with breathing, and constitutes a medical emergency. Infection can cause the epiglottis to obstruct or completely close off the windpipe.

Symptoms of epiglottitis include severe sore throat, swollen glands in the neck, difficulty swallowing, inability to swallow, excessive drooling, fever, breathing difficulty, muffled voice, and noisy breathing (a rasping sound) during inhalation.

The onset of this disease is typically acute and the course is frequently fulminant. Sore throat, hoarseness, and, frequently, high fever develop abruptly in a previously well child. Dysphagia (trouble swallowing) and respiratory distress characterized by drooling, dyspnea (difficulty breathing), tachypnea (fast breathing), and inspiratory stridor (noisy inspiration) develop rapidly, often causing the child to lean forward and hyperextend the neck to enhance air exchange.

Causes and Risk factors

The epiglottis can become infected causing swelling. The swelling can block the airway and result in death. Airway blockage is more common in children. The bacteria Haemophilus influenzae is the most common cause of this infection. Since childhood vaccination for Haemophilus influenzae the number of cases of epiglottitis has decreased.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Intravenous antibiotics are given. If the airway is compromised an oral breathing tube may need to be placed. If an oral airway cannot be inserted into the trachea a surgical airway (cricothyrotomy or tracheostomy) may need to be performed. ...

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