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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.

When to seek medical advice

Epiglottitis is a life-threatening condition requiring immediate care. If someone you know suddenly has trouble breathing and swallowing — often accompanied by drooling — call your local emergency number or go to the nearest hospital emergency department. Don't try to examine the person's throat yourself — this can make matters worse.

Screening and diagnosis

In suspected cases of epiglottitis, no diagnostic tests are performed until your airways are open and it's certain you're receiving enough oxygen. Once your condition is stable, a doctor may examine your throat using a flexible fiber-optic tube (nasopharyngoscope). Although most people don't find the procedure painful, a local anesthetic can help relieve any discomfort.

Sometimes you may have a chest X-ray in addition to nasopharyngoscopy. Or, you may have an X-ray without any direct examination of your throat. Because of the danger of sudden breathing problems, children may have X-rays taken at their bedside rather than in the radiology department.

You're also likely to have a blood test and throat culture. For the culture, your epiglottis is wiped with a cotton swab and the tissue sample grown on a special medium to check for the presence of H. influenzae. In the great majority of cases, both blood and throat cultures are positive for the bacteria.

Complications

The most common complications associated with epiglottitis are accidental removal of a breathing tube (extubation) and respiratory failure — a life-threatening condition in which the level of oxygen in your blood drops dangerously low or the level of carbon dioxide becomes excessively high.

Pulmonary edema, another life-threatening condition, can develop following airway treatment for epiglottitis. It occurs when the tiny air sacs (alveoli) in your lungs fill with fluid, preventing them from absorbing oxygen.

In addition, the bacteria that cause epiglottitis can cause simultaneous infections elsewhere in your body, especially pneumonia, ear infections (otitis media) and meningitis.

Epiglottitis > 1 > 2 > 3 > 4

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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Last Modified : 03/15/08 12:29 AM