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When epiglottitis strikes, it usually occurs quickly but may range from just a few hours to a few days. The most common symptoms include sore throat, muffling or changes in the voice, difficulty speaking, fever, difficulty swallowing, fast heart rate, and difficulty in breathing. A person with acute epiglottitis usually looks very ill.
Epiglottitis symptoms include:
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.
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 will still manifest the high-pitched whistling sound, called inspiratory stridor.
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.
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). Doctors have characterized adult epiglottitis into 3 categories:
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