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Epiglottitis in Children


What is epiglottitis?

Epiglottitis is swelling of your child's epiglottis. The epiglottis is the flap of tissue that covers the opening to his windpipe. It opens when your child breathes and closes when he 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 mouth open and tongue out
  • Sitting up and leaning forward to help him breathe
  • Harsh and raspy breathing
  • Drooling and trouble swallowing
  • Pain when he swallows
  • Hoarse or muffled voice
  • Restlessness or irritability

How is epiglottitis treated?

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

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 mouth when he sneezes or coughs. Have him wash his hands after he coughs, sneezes, or uses the bathroom. Ask your child's healthcare provider if he 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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Further information

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