Epiglottitis is a life-threatening condition characterized by inflamed epiglottis tissue.
The epiglottis is made of cartilage and is located at the base of the tongue. It helps prevent food from entering your windpipe. The tissue of the epiglottis can swell and block your airway. This requires immediate medical attention. If you suspect that you or your child has epiglottitis, call a doctor or seek emergency medical help immediately.
Epiglottitis is uncommon, but affects mostly children. Vaccines help protect your child from contracting the bacteria (Haemophilus influenzae type b) most responsible for this type of tissue inflammation.
A bacterial infection is the most common cause of epiglottitis. Bacteria can enter your body through inhalation and infect your epiglottis. The most common strand of bacteria that causes this condition is Haemophilus influenzae type b, also known as Hib. You can catch Hib by inhaling the germs spread when others who are already infected cough or sneeze.
Other bacteria strands that can cause epiglottitis include Streptococcus A, B, or C and Streptococcus pneumoniae. These are the same bacteria that cause strep throat. Additionally, viruses such as those that cause shingles and chickenpox can also cause epiglottitis. Fungi, such as those that cause diaper rash or yeast infections, may also contribute to inflammation of the epiglottis.
Other causes of this condition not related to bacteria, a virus, or fungi include:
Anyone can develop epiglottitis. However, the factors below can increase your risk of developing it.
Children younger than 2 months of age are at a higher risk for developing epiglottitis. This is because these children have not yet received a Hib vaccine. Additionally, children ranging from 3 to 7 years of age who reside in countries not offering vaccines (or where the vaccine is hard to come by) are more susceptible.
Males are more likely to develop epiglottitis than females. Reasons for this are unclear.
If you live or work with a large number of people, you are more likely to catch the germs of others and develop an infection. Likewise, heavily populated environments such as schools or daycare centers may increase your or your childs exposure to bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
A weak immune system can make it more difficult for your body to fight intruding germs. Poor immune function makes it easier for epiglottitis to develop.
The signs of epiglottitis are the same regardless of the cause. However, signs may differ between children and adults. Children can develop epiglottitis within a matter of hours. In adults it develops more slowly, usually over the course of days.
Once the airway becomes blocked, an adult or child may exhibit bluish discoloration on their skin from lack of oxygen.
Untreated, the epiglottis can block the airway completely. This is a severe condition and requires immediate medical attention. If you suspect epiglottitis, contact your doctor immediately.
Due to the seriousness of this condition, you may be diagnosed in an emergency care setting simply by physical observations and a medical history. In most cases, if epiglottitis is suspected, you will be admitted to the hospital. Once admitted, any of the following tests may be conducted to support the diagnosis:
If your physician suspects epiglottitis, the first mode of treatment typically involves monitoring your oxygen levels with an oximeter. If your blood-oxygen levels become too low, you may be given oxygen through a breathing tube or mask. Your physician may also provide one or all of the following treatments:
In most cases, if you seek immediate medical attention, you can expect a full recovery.
You can help reduce the risk of developing epiglottitis by following these recommendations: