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Epiglottitis in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Mar 5, 2023.

What is epiglottitis?

Epiglottitis is swelling of your child's epiglottis. The epiglottis is the flap of tissue that covers the opening to his or her windpipe. It opens when your child breathes and closes when he or she swallows. Epiglottitis in children is most commonly caused by a bacteria called Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib). It can also happen when your child breathes in very hot steam, certain chemicals, or smoke from a fire. When the epiglottis swells, it can block your child's airway. This condition is a medical emergency.

What are the signs and symptoms of epiglottitis?

Epiglottitis often begins with a fever and severe sore throat. Your child may also have any of the following:

  • Shortness of breath or breathing faster than usual
  • Breathing with his or her mouth open and tongue out
  • Sitting up and leaning forward to help him or her breathe
  • Harsh and raspy breathing
  • Drooling and trouble swallowing
  • Pain when he or she swallows
  • Hoarse or muffled voice
  • Restlessness or irritability

How is epiglottitis treated?

Your child will need monitoring and treatment in the hospital. He or she will need IV antibiotics to treat the infection. Your child may need steroids to decrease swelling in his or her airway and IV fluids to prevent dehydration. He or she may also need devices or treatments to help him or her breathe.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

How can I prevent epiglottitis from happening again?

Ask your child's healthcare provider about the Hib vaccine. This vaccine helps prevent Hib infection and problems such as epiglottitis. Children usually get 3 or 4 doses of the vaccine starting at 2 months of age. Make sure your child gets any missed or scheduled doses.

How can I help prevent the spread of epiglottitis?

Have your child cover his or her mouth when he or she sneezes or coughs. Have your child wash his or her hands after he or she coughs, sneezes, or uses the bathroom. Ask your child's provider if he or she needs to stay away from other children. Also ask if you or other household members need antibiotic medicine to prevent epiglottitis.


When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • Your child's fever or sore throat returns.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. 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.

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Learn more about Epiglottitis

Treatment options

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.