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Epiglottitis (cont.)

Is epiglottitis contagious?

Epiglottitis itself is not contagious, but the common bacteria, Haemophilus influenzae type b (H. influenzae), that can cause it, are contagious. However, the Hib vaccine protects most children against these bacteria. Epiglottitis used to be more common among children age 2 through 6 years before the development of the Hib vaccine.

What are the categories of epiglottitis?

Doctors have characterized adult epiglottitis into three categories:

Category 1: Severe respiratory distress with imminent or actual respiratory arrest. People typically report a brief history with a rapid illness that quickly becomes dangerous.

Category 2: Moderate-to-severe clinical symptoms and signs of considerable risk for potential airway blockage. Symptoms include sore throat, inability to swallow, difficulty in lying flat, muffled "hot potato" voice (speaking as if they have a mouthful of hot potato), stridor, and the use of accessory respiratory muscles with breathing.

Category 3: Mild-to-moderate illness without signs of potential airway blockage. These people often have a history of illness that has been occurring for days with complaints of sore throat and pain upon swallowing.

When to seek medical care for epiglottitis

Epiglottitis is a medical emergency. A person who is suspected of having epiglottitis should be taken to the hospital immediately. Any signs of difficulty in breathing should be reason enough to call 911 to take the person to a hospital's emergency department for evaluation by a doctor.

If the following signs and symptoms are present, an individual should go directly to a hospital's emergency department:

Sore throat associated with:

  • Muffled voice
  • Fever
  • Inability to swallow
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Irritability
  • Drooling
  • Respiratory distress characterized by shortness of breath, rapid shallow breathing, very ill-looking appearance, upright posturing with tendency to lean forward, and stridor (high-pitched sound when breathing in)

Which specialties of doctors treat epiglottitis?

Epiglottitis is generally uncommon, but it is severe and can be life-threatening. A person with epiglottitis initially may be diagnosed by a primary care provider (PCP), such as a family practitioner, internist, or a child's pediatrician. The person also may be seen and stabilized by an emergency medicine physician in a hospital emergency department. However, he or she should be referred to a specialist for further treatment, as epiglottitis is a serious disorder that can be fatal if not treated properly and promptly.

Specialists who can treat epiglottitis include otolaryngologists, also called ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctors and anesthesiologists, specialists in airway management. If a person is sent to intensive care, he or she may be treated by a critical care specialist. An infectious disease specialist also may be involved in the person's care.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/28/2016
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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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