Numerous factors can cause the epiglottis to get inflamed, resulting in swelling of the epiglottis and obstruction of the airway. Causes include various infections or direct injury to the epiglottis. Epiglottitis can occur at any age. Some common causes of epiglottitis include:
- Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib): It is the most common cause of epiglottitis, especially in children. It spreads through droplet infection. Vaccination against Hib during infancy has made epiglottitis rare these days.
- Streptococcus pneumonia (pneumococcus): It is a bacterium that can cause epiglottitis in adults, which can also cause meningitis, pneumonia, ear infections, and blood infections.
- Staphylococcus aureus: It is a bacterium that causes epiglottitis more commonly in adults than in children and skin infections and other diseases, including pneumonia and toxic shock syndrome.
What are the signs and symptoms of epiglottitis?
Symptoms in children: In children, signs and symptoms of epiglottitis may develop and worsen in a matter of hours, requiring immediate medical attention. Signs and symptoms include:
- Stridor (abnormal, high-pitched sound when breathing)
- Fever with or without chills
- Severe throat pain
- Difficulty and pain during swallowing
- Inability to swallow saliva
- Drooling of saliva
- Restless behavior
- The child feels better when sitting up or leaning forward with the hand stretched out for support (tripod position)
Symptoms in adults: In adults, the signs and symptoms may develop more slowly, over a few days. Signs and symptoms may include:
- Severe throat pain
- Change in voice (muffled or hoarse voice)
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty while swallowing
Risk factors for epiglottitis: Certain factors increase the risk of epiglottitis, including:
- Being male: Epiglottitis affects more men than women.
- A weak immune system: Medical conditions such as diabetes and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or medications such as corticosteroids increase the risk of epiglottitis.
- Lacking adequate vaccination: Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib) vaccination is a routine vaccination given to all children. Delayed or skipped immunizations can increase the risk of Hib infection. Hib also causes other serious infections such as meningitis and pneumonia.
What are the complications of epiglottitis?
Epiglottitis can cause numerous complications, including:
- Respiratory failure: The epiglottis gets inflamed and swollen causing narrowing of the airway or completely airway obstruction. This can lead to respiratory failure because the oxygen level in the blood significantly drops and the carbon dioxide level becomes dangerously high.
- Spread of infection: Infection that started in the epiglottitis can spread to other parts of the body, for example, pneumonia (infection of the lungs), meningitis (infection of the brain), and septicemia (bloodstream infection).
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