Definition and facts about epiglottitis
- Epiglottitis is a potentially fatal
medical emergency that occurs when the flap of tissue that covers the trachea
(windpipe) during swallowing becomes infected or inflamed, resulting in swelling
and obstruction that can close off the windpipe.
- Epiglottitis may be caused by infection
(such as with bacteria, viruses, or fungi), environmental agents (such as
chemicals or heat damage), allergic reactions, or trauma to the neck or throat.
- Symptoms of epiglottitis include
- sore throat,
- muffling or changes in the voice,
- difficulty speaking,
- fast heart rate, and
- difficulty breathing.
- A person with acute
epiglottitis usually looks very ill.
- Epiglottitis is a medical emergency and
anyone suspected of having epiglottitis should be taken to a hospital's
emergency department immediately.
- Haemophilus influenzae type b (H.
influenza), is a common bacteria that can cause epiglottitis, and is contagious.
The Hib vaccine protects most children against these bacteria.
- Epiglottitis is not always easy to
diagnose and because it is so rare, it is commonly misdiagnosed as strep throat
or croup. Tests for epiglottitis may include X-rays, laryngoscopy, blood tests,
arterial blood gas, and blood cultures.
- Whenever epiglottitis is suspected,
immediate hospitalization is required. Antibiotics may be prescribed. Initial
treatment may consist of close monitoring along with humidified oxygen and IV
fluids, along with making a person comfortable and minimizing anxiety, which can
cause the throat to close up. IV antibiotics may be prescribed to clear
infection and control inflammation in the body.
- If there are signs of airway
obstruction due to epiglottitis, treatment requires laryngoscopy in an operating
room. In severe cases, a cricothyrotomy (cutting the neck to insert a breathing
tube directly into the windpipe) may be performed.
- Epiglottitis may be prevented with
childhood vaccination against H. influenza type b (Hib). For people who live
with an unvaccinated child under age 4 years of age who is exposed to a person
with H. influenza epiglottitis, preventive medication such as rifampin (Rifadin)
is given to all household contacts to prevent the spread of the bacteria.
- The prognosis for epiglottitis is good
if the condition is caught early and treated in time. Most people with
epiglottitis recover without problems. However, when epiglottitis is not
diagnosed and treated early or properly, the prognosis is poor, and the
condition can be fatal.
- Epiglottitis also can occur with other infections in adults, such as pneumonia. Most commonly, it is misdiagnosed as a strep throat or croup.
- In the July 2016, comedian and actor Sarah Silverman, made headlines when she was hospitalized for a case of epiglottitis.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/20/2017
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