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Epiglottitis

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KEY POINTS

  • Epiglottitis is infection and swelling of the small flap of tissue at the back of the throat, called the epiglottis. Epiglottitis is an emergency and needs to be treated right away.
  • Your child will need to stay in the hospital and will have an IV for fluids and medicines. Your child may need a breathing tube and oxygen to help with breathing.
  • Children should get all the recommended vaccines including Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib) to help protect against a type of bacteria that can cause meningitis, pneumonia, and infections of the throat, joints, heart, and blood.

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What is epiglottitis?

Epiglottitis is infection and swelling of the small flap of tissue at the back of the throat called the epiglottis. The epiglottis covers the windpipe (trachea) when you swallow. Swelling in the epiglottis may affect your ability to breathe. Epiglottitis is an emergency and needs to be treated right away.

Epiglottitis can happen to people of any age.

What is the cause?

Epiglottitis is usually caused by:

  • Infection from bacteria
  • Infection from a virus or fungus

Other less common causes of epiglottitis are:

  • Inhaling toxic chemicals
  • Inhaling something hot or burning such as smoke from a fire
  • Choking on a foreign object.
  • Having chemotherapy to the mouth or throat for cancer

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms usually get worse quickly over a few hours and include:

  • High fever
  • Very sore throat
  • Trouble breathing
  • Noisy breathing
  • Drooling because of problems swallowing
  • Sitting upright and forward
  • Trouble speaking

How is it diagnosed?

Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history and examine your child’s throat. In the hospital, your child’s provider may use endoscopy, which uses a slim, flexible, lighted tube to see the back of your child’s throat. Tests may include:

  • X-rays or other scans of the chest or neck
  • An ultrasound, which uses sound waves to show pictures of the throat
  • Blood tests

How is it treated?

Your child will need to stay in the hospital and will have an IV for fluids and medicines. Your child may need a breathing tube and oxygen if your child is having trouble breathing.

Your child may need to have emergency surgery for a tracheostomy. A tracheostomy is surgery to make a small opening through the front of the neck and into the windpipe (trachea). A tube is then placed through the opening and into your child’s windpipe. The tube keeps your child’s airway open and helps your child breathe by letting air flow in and out of the lungs. It may be attached to a breathing machine, called a ventilator, which breathes for your child by moving air in and out of the lungs. This is called mechanical ventilation.

Other treatment may include:

  • Antibiotic medicine for infection
  • Medicine to help decrease swelling
  • Medicine to help your child relax and to decrease pain

How can I take care of my child?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your child’s healthcare provider. In addition:

  • Follow your child’s healthcare provider’s instructions. Make sure that your child takes all antibiotic medicines exactly as prescribed. If your child stops taking the antibiotic medicine too soon, the infection may come back. If your child has side effects from the medicine, talk to your child’s provider.
  • Advise your child not to smoke, and to stay away from others who are smoking.
  • Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever and pain
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. Read the label and give as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, your child should not take the medicine for more than 10 days.
    • Do not give any medicine that contains aspirin or salicylates to a child or teen. This includes medicines like baby aspirin, some cold medicines, and Pepto-Bismol. Children and teens who take aspirin are at risk for a serious illness called Reye’s syndrome.
  • Ask your healthcare provider if others in your household should be treated to prevent epiglottitis.

Ask your child’s provider:

  • How long it will take for your child to recover
  • If there are activities your child should avoid and when your child can return to normal activities
  • How to take care of your child at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them

Make sure you know when your child should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

How can I help prevent epiglottitis?

  • Make sure that your child gets all the recommended vaccines including Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib) to help protect against a type of bacteria that can cause meningitis, pneumonia, and infections of the throat, joints, heart, and blood. The Hib vaccine is given to some children who have sickle cell anemia, cancer, or other problems with their immune system.
  • Treat colds and allergies promptly.
  • Teach your child not to smoke and to avoid secondhand smoke.
Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2018-09-24
Last reviewed: 2019-04-26
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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