The epiglottis is comprised of cartilage and can be found beneath the tongue. It is responsible for preventing food from going into the windpipe. However, the tissue of the epiglottis is susceptible to swelling, and when this happens the child’s airway can become blocked. This is a dangerous condition that requires prompt medical assistance.

What is epiglottitis?

Epiglottitis is a condition where the tissue of the epiglottis becomes inflamed. It is rare and mostly appears in children. Bacteria will enter the child’s body through their nose, and their epiglottis will become infected. Haemophilus influenza type b is the bacteria most responsible for the infection, and it is contracted when someone who already has the bacteria sneezes, and a child nearby inhales the germs. Other types of bacteria that can cause epiglottitis include Streptococcus pneumonia as well as Streptococcus A, B, or C. This condition may also be contracted through viruses.

New born children are at greatest risk of developing epiglottitis. The reason for this is because they haven’t yet received the Hib vaccine. Also, children between the ages of 3 and 7 are also at increased risk of contracting epiglottitis, especially if they live in a country where the vaccine isn’t widely available. Male children are more likely to contract epiglottitis than female children, and the reasons for this are not understood. A child with a weakened immune system is vulnerable to epiglottis because their body is less capable of warding off germs.

What are the symptoms of epiglottitis?

Regardless of what causes epiglottitis, the symptoms are always the same. Children will contract the condition within hours of exposure. Once the airway is blocked, the child may display skin discoloration due to a lack of oxygen. Symptoms which are associated with this condition include:

  • An infection in the upper respiratory tract
  • Fever accompanied by chills
  • The child drools
  • The throat becomes sore or itchy
  • The child’s voice is hoarse
  • Breathing via the mouth

How is the diagnosis established?

Because this condition is life threatening, your child will be diagnosed in an emergency setting. Dr. Samadi will review both the medical history of your child as well as performing physical observations. If he suspects epiglottitis he will conduct some additional tests, including a throat and chest exam using an X-ray, as well as a fiber optic tube to examine the throat. He may also collect blood or throat cultures in order to determine the cause for the infection.

How is epiglottitis treated?

Once epiglottitis has been diagnosed, Dr. Samadi will review the oxygen levels of the child using a device called an oximeter. If the blood/oxygen levels of the child become dangerously low, he will provide oxygen to the child with a breathing tube.

Epiglottitis treatment involves providing the child with food and fluids intravenously until they can swallow again, and antibiotics will be used to destroy the infection itself. To reduce the swelling in the throat, anti-inflammatory medicines such as corticosteroids will be administered. If you suspect that your child is suffering from this condition, contact us at ENT for Children immediately, as this is a life threatening ailment that is treatable, if medical assistance is provided in time.