DESCRIPTIONAcute epiglottitis is a sudden, life-threatening childhood infection of the epiglottis (a small flap of tissue in the back of the throat that guards the airway entrance to the lung). Epiglottitis is contagious. The epiglottis and surrounding tissue are involved. Acute epiglottitis can affect children from ages 2 to 12 years.
Appropriate health care includes:
Physician's monitoring of general condition and medications.
Hospitalization for oxygen and other intensive care.
Surgery to make an opening in the child's windpipe (trachea) or to place a tube in the trachea to permit breathing. Usually the tube is withdrawn or the opening is closed in 4 to 7 days. This procedure is frequently needed for severe infections of the epiglottis. The surgery can be life-saving.
SIGNS & SYMPTOMSSore throat.
Drooling caused by difficulty swallowing saliva.
Increasing breathing difficulty.
Noisy, high-pitched, squeaky inhalations.
Purple skin and nails.
Odd head posture. The child tilts the neck back and leans forward with the tongue stuck out and the nostrils flared, trying to inhale more air.
Sudden onset of the following:
Infection of the epiglottis by a bacteria (usually hemophilus influenza, pneumococcus, or streptococcus). The child's swollen epiglottis blocks the trachea (the main lung airway).
RISK FACTORSIllness that has lowered your child's resistance.
Crowded or unsanitary living conditions.
PREVENTING COMPLICATIONS OR RECURRENCEIf your child has had epiglottitis previously, treat all respiratory infections early and with medical supervision.
Your own observation of symptoms.
Medical history and physical exam by a doctor.
Laboratory studies, such as blood counts and a throat culture.
X-rays of the child's throat to determine the amount of airway obstruction.
POSSIBLE COMPLICATIONSWithout treatment, complete airway obstruction and death within hours.
Full recovery with prompt diagnosis and treatment of your child.
Have the child sit up rather than lie down.
Keep the child calm and still until you reach the hospital. Panic increases the child's breathing difficulty.
After hospitalization, use a cool-mist humidifier at night in the child's room for 2 to 3 weeks.
MEDICATIONYour doctor may prescribe antibiotics to control infection. Continue for a minimum of 10 days.
See Medications section for information regarding medicines your doctor may prescribe.
Bed rest is necessary for your child until all symptoms disappear. Activities may then be resumed gradually.
DIET & FLUIDS
Fluids only (usually intravenous) until the child can swallow. After hospitalization, encourage extra fluids and provide your child with a normal diet.
OK TO GO TO SCHOOL?When signs of infection have decreased, appetite returns, and alertness, strength, and feeling of well-being will allow.
CALL YOUR DOCTOR IF
Your child has symptoms of epiglottitis, especially signs of breathing difficulty. This is an emergency!
Your child has had epiglottitis in the past, and symptoms of respiratory infection appear.