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Acute Epiglottitis


What is acute epiglottitis?

Epiglottitis is swelling of the epiglottis. The epiglottis is the flap of tissue at the back of your tongue. Epiglottitis is most commonly caused by a bacteria called Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib). The epiglottis opens when you breathe and closes when you swallow. When the epiglottis swells, it can block your airway. This condition is a medical emergency.

What are the signs and symptoms of acute epiglottitis?

Epiglottitis often begins with a fever and severe sore throat. You may also have the following signs and symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath or needing to breathe with your mouth open and tongue out
  • Harsh and raspy breathing
  • Drooling because you cannot swallow
  • Pain when you swallow
  • Hoarse or muffled voice
  • Restlessness and anxiousness

How is acute epiglottitis treated?

  • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to help treat or prevent an infection caused by bacteria.
  • Endotracheal (ET) tube: An endotracheal tube may be put into your mouth or nose. It goes down into your windpipe to help keep your airway open and help you breathe. It may be hooked to a ventilator (breathing machine), and you may get extra oxygen through your ET tube. You will not be able to talk while the ET tube is in place.

What are the risks of acute epiglottitis?

The bacteria can spread to other parts of your body, such as your ears, lungs, or spine. This can cause pneumonia, meningitis, or respiratory failure. Your lungs may fill with fluid and prevent you from getting enough oxygen. Epiglottitis is life-threatening and requires immediate treatment.

How can I prevent acute epiglottitis from happening again?

You may need the Hib vaccine to decrease your chance of getting epiglottitis again. Ask your healthcare provider if you need this vaccine.

When should I seek immediate help?

You or someone with you should seek immediate help or call 911 if:

  • You have a fever, sore throat, and a hoarse or muffled voice.
  • You have harsh, raspy breathing.
  • You have shortness of breath or need to breathe with your mouth open and tongue out.
  • You are drooling because you cannot swallow.
  • Your lips, skin, or fingernails are blue, gray, or white.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.