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We all know what an epiglottis is. It is an elastic flap-like tissue that is located at the base of the throat, just  at the entrance of the larynx. It helps in preventing food and liquid from entering the windpipe. But not are aware of a life-threatening condition called epiglottitis. Let’s learn more about epiglottitis in the following paragraphs.

What is Epigottitis?

Epiglottitis is a serious infection of the epiglottis caused by a bacterial or viral infection. It leads to swelling and inflammation of the epiglottis. Thus, leading to problems breathing as well as airway obstruction. This prevents air from reaching the lungs, leading to a medical emergency.

Children who are vaccinated with Hib vaccine have a low risk of epiglottitis. In the past, many children became infected with Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) and suffered from epiglottitis. This is the same bacteria that can lead to pneumonia, meningitis and septicimia. Epiglottitis infection can affect any person of any age.

Symptoms of Epiglottitis

Epiglottitis has become a rare infection with the introduction of Hib vaccine. However, if a child or any adult experiences the following symptoms, visit the doctor immediately.

Children may experience some of the following symptoms

  • Fever
  • Severe sore throat
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Drooling
  • Restlessness
  • Stridor (high-pitched breathing sound)

Adults show the following signs:

  • A really bad sore throat
  • Muffled voice
  • Problems breathing and swallowing
  • Stridor
  • Fever

Causes of Epiglottitis

Epiglottitis is usually caused by a bacterial infection. Haemophilus influenza type B is the most common bacteria that cause epiglottis. Another bacterial infection that can lead to epiglottitis include:

  • Streptococcus pneumoniae,
  • Streptococcus agalactiae,
  • Staphylococcus aureus,
  • Streptococcus pyogenes,
  • Haemophilus influenza

Other than a bacterial infection, an injury can also lead to epiglottitis. These include:

  • Direct blow to the throat causing swelling of the epiglottis
  • Swallowing a chemical causing burns
  • Swallowing a sharp, foreign object
  • Use of drugs like cocaine

Diagnosis of Epiglottitis

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If the doctor suspects epiglottitis, he/she will ensure that the airway is open and oxygen is passing trough the airway. Then, the throat will be examined, chest or neck X-ray will be taken along with throat culture and blood tests to check for the type of bacterial infection.

Treatment for Epiglottitis

Treatment for epiglottitis includes checking the blood oxygen level and checking if the patient can breathe. An oxygen mask will be given to the patient to breathe. A breathing tube will be placed to make sure the swelling does not block the patient’s throat. In extreme measures, needle tracheostomy will be performed. This is done to create an emergency airway in case the swelling is severe and blocks the passage of air into the lungs. The infection is treated with broad-spectrum antibiotics by the time the throat culture and blood reports come in.

The only  way to prevent epiglottitis is Hib vaccine. If you observe a child or any adult experiencing trouble breathing along with sore throat and fever, visit the doctor. Epiglottitis could turn into a serious, life-threatening condition, if not treated soon.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: April 01, 2015

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