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    Epiglottitis

    Supraglottitis

    Epiglottitis is inflammation of the tissue that covers the trachea (windpipe). It is a life-threatening disease.

    See also: Croup

    Causes

    The epiglottis is a piece of stiff, yet flexible tissue (called cartilage) at the back of the tongue. It closes your windpipe (trachea) when you swallow so food does not enter your airways. This helps prevent coughing or choking after swallowing.

    Swelling of the epiglottis is usually caused by the bacteria Haemophilus influenzae (H. influenzae). It may also be caused by other bacteria or viruses related to upper respiratory infections.

    Epiglottitis is now very uncommon, because the H. influenzae type B (Hib) vaccine is a routine childhood immunization. The disease was once most often seen in children ages 2 - 6. Rarely, epiglottitis can occur in adults.

    Symptoms

    Epiglottitis begins with a high fever and sore throat. Other symptoms may include:

    • Abnormal breathing sounds (stridor)
    • Chills, shaking
    • Cyanosis (blue skin coloring)
    • Drooling
    • Difficulty breathing (patient may need to sit upright and lean slightly forward to breathe)
    • Difficulty swallowing
    • Voice changes (hoarseness)

    Exams and Tests

    Epiglottitis is a medical emergency. Seek immediate medical help. Do not use a tongue depressor (tongue blade) to try to examine the throat at home, as this may make the condition worse.

    The health care provider may examine the voice box (larynx) using either a small mirror held against the back of the throat or a viewing tube called a laryngoscope.

    This examination is best done in the operating room or a similar setting where sudden breathing problems can be more easily handled.

    Tests that may be done include:

    • Blood culture or throat culture
    • Complete blood count (CBC)
    • Neck x-ray

    Treatment

    A hospital stay is needed, usually in the intensive care unit (ICU).

    Treatment involves methods to help the person breathe, including:

    • Breathing tube (intubation)
    • Moistened (humidified) oxygen

    Other treatments may include:

    • Antibiotics to treat the infection
    • Anti-inflammatory medicines called corticosteroids to decrease throat swelling
    • Fluids given through a vein (by IV)

    Outlook (Prognosis)

    Epiglottitis can be a life-threatening emergency. However, with proper treatment, the outcome is usually good.

    Possible Complications

    Spasm may cause the airways to close abruptly. In this case, death follows within minutes.

    The airways may become totally blocked, which could result in death.

    When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Call the local emergency number (such as 911) if your child has symptoms of epiglottitis, including sudden breathing difficulties, excessive drooling, and irritability.

    Prevention

    Immunization with the Hib vaccine protects most children from epiglottitis.

    The bacteria that causes epiglottitis is contagious. If someone in your family is sick from this bacteria, you need to be tested and treated appropriately.

    References

    Manno M. Pediatric respiratory emergencies: Upper airway obstruction and infections. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 166.

    Burns JE, Hendley JO. Epiglottitis. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 59.

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    • Haemophilus influenza or...

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    • Throat anatomy

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    • Haemophilus influenza or...

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      • Haemophilus influenza or...

        illustration

      • Throat anatomy

        illustration

      • Haemophilus influenza or...

        illustration

      Tests for Epiglottitis

        Review Date: 2/2/2012

        Reviewed By: John Goldenring, MD, MPH, JD, Pediatrics, Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, San Diego, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

        The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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