Epiglottitis is inflammation of the leaf-shaped lid of tissue (epiglottis) that is located over the opening to the large breathing tube leading to the lungs (trachea). This flap of tissue closes when a person swallows to prevent food and fluids from getting into the trachea.
Epiglottitis can be life-threatening because the inflamed and swollen epiglottis can rapidly block the trachea and make breathing difficult. Epiglottitis generally begins suddenly, without a previous upper respiratory infection.
Symptoms of epiglottitis may include:
- Difficult or noisy breathing (stridor).
- A high fever.
- Drooling and trouble swallowing liquids.
- A muffled voice.
- Problems lying down. A child with epiglottitis usually prefers to sit up and lean forward with his or her head and jaw forward to breathe.
In the past, most cases of bacterial epiglottitis in children were caused by Haemophilus influenzae. This infection can be prevented with the Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine. Epiglottitis in children caused by Haemophilus influenzae is now very uncommon because of the vaccine. In adults, the cause is usually a strep infection.
A child with epiglottitis appears very sick and in distress. If a child has symptoms of epiglottitis, seek emergency care.
Current as of: March 1, 2023
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & David Messenger MD - Emergency Medicine, Critical Care Medicine