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Epiglottitis
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Epiglottitis

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CHILDREN'S HEALTH

Ear/Nose/Throat

CHILDREN'S HEALTH

Infants

Inflammation of the epiglottis that tends to cause airway obstruction, this disease typically strikes children between ages 2 and 8. 

Epiglottitis sometimes follows an upper respiratory infection and may rapidly progress to complete upper airway obstruction within 2 to 5 hours.  An emergency, epiglottitis can prove fatal in &% to 12% of victims unless it's recognized and treated promptly.

Causes

Your voice box (larynx) is a framework of cartilage, muscle and mucous membrane that forms the entrance to your windpipe (trachea), the tube that connects your mouth and throat to your lungs. The epiglottis is a small, movable "lid" just above the larynx that prevents food and drink from entering your windpipe.

It does this by dropping down when you swallow, effectively sealing off the larynx. That's why it's impossible to swallow and breathe at the same time. When you're not eating or drinking, the epiglottis is slightly lifted so that air can flow freely into your lungs. But if the epiglottis becomes swollen, either from infection or injury, the airway narrows and may become completely blocked.

The epiglottis is a small cartilage "lid" that seals off the larynx when you swallow so that food and drink don't enter your windpipe (trachea).

The most common cause of swelling and inflammation of the epiglottis and surrounding tissues (supraglottic structures) is infection with Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) bacteria. This isn't the germ that causes the flu (influenza), but it's responsible for other serious conditions, including meningitis and pneumonia.

Hib is contagious, spreading through droplets that are released into the air when someone with the infection coughs or sneezes. In rare cases, some people may harbor Hib in their nose and throat without becoming sick themselves, although they still have the potential to spread the bacteria to others.

Hib isn't the only pathogen that can lead to epiglottitis. A number of other bacteria and viruses can cause inflammation in the epiglottis, including:

  • Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus), the most common cause of meningitis

  • Streptococcus A, B and C, a group of bacteria that cause diseases ranging from strep throat to blood infections (sepsis)

  • Candida albicans, the fungus responsible for vaginal yeast infections, diaper rash and oral thrush

  • Varicella zoster, the virus responsible for chickenpox and shingles

Other causes of epiglottitis
Physical injury, such as a direct blow to your throat, can cause epiglottitis. So can scald burns to your face or burns from drinking very hot liquids.

You also may develop signs and symptoms similar to those of epiglottitis if you:

  • Swallow a chemical that burns your throat

  • Swallow a foreign object

  • Are exposed to crack cocaine smoke or are burned by a crack cocaine pipe screen filter

Risk factors

It's impossible to tell who will develop epiglottitis, but certain factors increase your risk. These factors include:

  • Age. For most of the 20th century, epiglottitis was more common in children than in adults. But in 1985, doctors began immunizing children against Hib. Since then, the number of children with epiglottitis has dropped dramatically. The result is that more adults than children are now affected. Most adults who develop epiglottitis are in their 40s. Children between the ages of 2 and 7 are at greatest risk.

  • Sex. More men than women develop epiglottitis.

  • Race. Blacks and Hispanics tend to develop epiglottitis more frequently than do whites. A difference in access to medical care, including childhood immunizations, may be responsible for the higher rates in underserved populations.

  • Crowded conditions. Hib bacteria spread rapidly wherever people are in close contact. Hib infections are especially prevalent in child-care centers, but they also spread quickly in schools, offices and within families.

  • Decreased immune function. If your immune system has been weakened by illness or medications such as prednisone, you're more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections that may cause epiglottitis.

 

Epiglottitis > 1 > 2 > 3 > 4

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Last Modified : 03/15/08 12:29 AM