Epiglottitis (patient information)

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Epiglottitis

Overview

What are the symptoms?

What are the causes?

Who is at highest risk?

When to seek urgent medical care?

Diagnosis

Treatment options

Diseases with similar symptoms

Where to find medical care for Epiglottitis?

What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?

Possible complications

Prevention

Epiglottitis On the Web

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FDA on Epiglottitis

CDC on Epiglottitis

Epiglottitis in the news

Blogs on Epiglottitis

Directions to Hospitals Treating Epiglottitis

Risk calculators and risk factors for Epiglottitis

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Assistant Editor-in-Chief: Alexandra M. Palmer

Overview

Epiglottitis is inflammation of the cartilage that covers the trachea (windpipe).

What are the symptoms of Epiglottitis?

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

What causes Epiglottitis?

Epiglottitis is a life-threatening disease. The epiglottis is a piece of cartilage at the back of the tongue that closes off the windpipe when swallowing. It keeps food from entering the airways, so you don't cough or choke after swallowing.

Epiglottitis is swelling of the epiglottis, which leads to breathing problems. Swelling of the epiglottis is usually caused by the bacteria Haemophilus influenzae (H. influenzae), although it may be caused by other bacteria or viruses. Upper respiratory infections can lead to epiglottitis. Medicines or diseases that weaken the immune system can make adults more prone to epiglottitis.

Epiglottitis is most common in children between 2 and 6 years old. Rarely, epiglottitis can occur in adults, and it may be easily overlooked in such patients.

The occurrence of epiglottitis has decreased dramatically in the United States since the H. influenzae type B (Hib) vaccine became a routine childhood immunization in the late 1980s.

Who is at highest risk for Epiglottitis?

Since epiglottitis is contagious, anyone around a person with epiglottitis is at risk.

Diagnosis

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 will examine the voice box (larynx) using either a small mirror held against the back of the throat or a viewing tube called a laryngoscope. The exam may show a swollen and red epiglottis.

Tests used to diagnose epiglottitis may include:

When to seek urgent medical care?

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

Treatment options

The patient will be admitted to the hospital, usually an intensive care unit (ICU).

Treatment may include methods to help the patient breathe, including:

Other treatments may include:

Diseases with similar symptoms

Where to find medical care for Epiglottitis?

Directions to Hospitals Treating Epiglottitis

The bacterial infection that causes epiglottitis is contagious, so family members should be screened and treated if appropriate.

What to expect (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.

Prevention

Immunization with the Hib vaccine protects children from epiglottitis.

Sources

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000605.htm


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