Epiglottitis, also known as supraglottitis is a potentially life-threatening acute condition that characterizes an acute inflamed condition of the supraglottic region of the oropharynx with inflammation of the epiglottis, arytenoids, vallecula, and aryepiglottic folds inflammation of the epiglottis. Epiglottitis can occur at any age and most men are at higher risk of contracting this disease than women.

Epiglottis is a flap-like structure, made of cartilage which is located at the base of the tongue that prevents food and liquid particles from getting into the windpipe or trachea. Epiglottitis mostly begins in the form of inflammation at the base of the tongue and epiglottis region, which on continuous inflammation and swelling causes complete blockage of the airway and in the severe state can also lead to suffocation and death.

epiglottis causes

Epiglottitis is mostly caused by Type B Haemophilus influenzae virus (i.e. Hib) or the Type A, B or C strain of the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, which can enter the body from the cough or sneeze of the person infected with influenza or pneumonia. Apart from the Hib virus, epiglottitis can also occur viruses that cause shingles or chickenpox, or respiratory infections. Some strains of fungi, that cause diaper rash or yeast infections, may also lead to inflammation of the epiglottis. Also Read: All About The Flu: Precautions & Treatment

Epiglottitis can also happen due to chemical burns or inhaling chemicals, smoking cocaine, burning throat from steam or other heat sources, swallowing foreign particles, a severe trauma due to some throat injury, stabbing or gunshot wound. People having a weakened immune system and lacking in proper vaccination are also susceptible to the infection.


The signs and symptoms of epiglottitis develop at a different rate in adults and children. Usually, children develop the signs within a matter of hours after exposure to the virus, whereas it takes a few days for adults to develop the symptoms.

  • Fever
  • Hoarse voice
  • Severe sore throat
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Drooling
  • Anxious, restless behaviour
  • Difficulty and pain while swallowing
  • Feeling better when sitting up or leaning forward
  • Cyanosis, skin turning blue due to lack of oxygen reaching the bloodstream

Diagnosis and Treatment

Once you notice a few of the above-mentioned symptoms or you have certain emergency situations, it is fairly advisable to rush to a nearby hospital or emergency care unit and get diagnosed by a doctor or physician. The doctor may perform a series of test including:

  • Imaging procedures like X-ray of the throat or chest to understand the extent and severity of the infection.
  • Examination of the throat using a fibre optic tube.
  • Throat and blood cultures to understand the cause of infection, i.e. whether it is viral or bacterial.

Treatment mostly involves monitoring the oxygen level in the body using the pulse oximetry device. The doctor may also provide intravenous fluids for nutrition and hydration and to ease up swallowing or he can prescribe strong antibiotics for the infection or anti-inflammatory medicines to reduce the swelling.

In severe cases, the doctor may even need to perform a tracheostomy or cricothyroidotomy.

Epiglottitis can also be prevented in children if they are immunised with the Hib vaccines. Also Read: Immunisation Protects Your Child & Family! Get Up-to-Date On Vaccinations NOW!

Certain preventive measures can also be adopted to steer clear of germs such as:

  • Wash your hands frequently or use proper sanitizer before eating
  • Don’t share personal items with an infected person
  • Boost your immunity by maintaining a well-balanced diet, avoiding smoking and taking adequate rest.