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Epiglottitis (cont.)

What are the signs and symptoms of epiglottitis?

When epiglottitis strikes, it usually occurs quickly and its progression may range from just a few hours to a few days. The most common signs and symptoms include

A person with acute epiglottitis usually looks very ill. People with epiglottitis may appear restless and breathing with their neck, chest wall, and upper belly muscles. While they may be taking in less air with each breath, they may still manifest the high-pitched whistling sound, called inspiratory stridor. Both adults and children may have bluish discoloration of their skin from lack of oxygen after the airway becomes blocked.

Epiglottitis signs and symptoms in adults include

  • trouble breathing (respiratory distress),
  • drooling,
  • leaning forward to breathe,
  • taking rapid shallow breaths,
  • "pulling in" of muscles in the neck or between the ribs with breathing (retractions),
  • high-pitched whistling sound when breathing (stridor),
  • noisy breathing,
  • difficulty catching your breath,
  • sore throat,
  • fever,
  • raspy voice, and
  • trouble speaking.

Signs and symptoms of epiglottitis in children

In children, symptoms of epiglottitis are similar. Typically, a child who comes to the hospital with epiglottitis has a history of fever, difficulty talking, irritability, and problems swallowing for several hours. The child often sits forward and drools. Children may sit in a "sniffing position" with the body leaning forward and the head and nose tilted forward and upward as though they are sniffing a good smelling pie.

Epiglottitis signs and symptoms in children include

  • fever with chills,
  • high-pitched whistling sound when breathing (stridor),
  • difficulty breathing,
  • difficulty swallowing,
  • drooling,
  • refusing to eat,
  • muffled or hoarse voice,
  • scratchy and sore throat
  • anxiety or restlessness
  • symptoms reduced when leaning forward
  • and less commonly
  • cough, and
  • ear pain.

In infants younger than one year, signs and symptoms such as fever, drooling, and upright posturing may all be absent. The infant may have a cough and a history of an upper respiratory infection. It is very difficult to know if an infant has epiglottitis.

In contrast, adolescents and adults have a more generally ill appearance with sore throat as the main complaint along with fever, difficulty breathing, drooling, and stridor (noise with breathing).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/28/2016
Medical Editor:

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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Epiglottitis »

Epiglottitis, also termed supraglottitis or epiglottiditis, is an inflammation of structures above the insertion of the glottis.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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