Epiglottitis is inflammation and swelling of the epiglottis. In most cases it is caused by infection.

The epiglottis is a flap of tissue that sits beneath the tongue at the back of the throat. Its main function is to close over the windpipe (trachea) while you're eating to prevent food from entering your airways.

Symptoms of epiglottitis usually develop rapidly and include a severe sore throat, breathing difficulties, drooling and difficulty swallowing.

A swollen epiglottis can be very serious as it can restrict the oxygen supply to your lungs. Epiglottitis is therefore regarded as a medical emergency.

Dial 999 to request an ambulance if you think you or your child has epiglottitis.

While waiting for an ambulance you should not attempt to examine your child's throat, place anything inside their mouth or lay them on their back because this may make their symptoms worse. It's important to keep them calm and to try not to cause panic or distress.

Epiglottitis can be fatal if the throat becomes completely blocked. However, with appropriate treatment most people make a full recovery.

Treating epiglottitis

Epiglottitis is treated in hospital. The first thing the medical team will do is make sure airways are clear and your child is able to breathe. Once this has been achieved, the underlying infection will be treated with a course of antibiotics.

Most people with epiglottitis are well enough to leave hospital after 5-7 days.

Read more about treating epiglottitis.

Why it happens

Epiglottitis is usually caused by an infection with Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) bacteria, although it can also be caused by other types of bacteria or injury.

Since the 1990s, a vaccination against Hib bacteria has been routinely offered for young children. This has significantly reduced the number of Hib infections in children and young adults and is the best way to prevent epiglottitis.

Read more about the causes of epiglottitis and preventing epiglottitis.

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