|Birth||Postnatal||Childhood Illness||Glossary A-Z|
The epiglottis is the flap-like cartilage at the base of
the tongue that acts as a valve to protect the larynx (voice box) and
trachea (windpipe). The epiglottis may become infected, a condition termed
Epiglottitis , usually by the common bacterial invaders of the throat
and respiratory tree (most prominently Haemophilus influenzae, type
B ). Infection inflames and swells the epiglottis, limiting its motion.
In young children (usually between 2 and 7 years old, in whom these structures
are smaller) and occasionally in older children as well as teens and adults,
the swelling can become pronounced enough to block the airway entirely,
creating a life-threatening situation.
Symptoms and Signs
Sore throat; fever; difficult or painful swallowing; hoarseness. In infants and young children: whistling or crowing sounds with breathing; shortness of breath and progressive difficulty with breathing; refusal of food or water; sometimes drooling of saliva (refusal to swallow saliva).
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosis is based on x-ray studies. There is a danger that physical examination may trigger sudden and potentially fatal closing of the throat. During the exam a person with epiglottitis often assumes a posture of leaning forward and stretching the neck out to make breathing easier. Once the doctor has made sure that the airway will stay open, a physical exam, with a laryngoscope , may be done under anaesthesia. The swollen, red epiglottis will be visible.
Antibiotics to eradicate the infection are the mainstay
of treatment. Severe difficulty in breathing requires immediate measures
to preserve or restore the airway. Sometimes this can mean an emergency
tracheostomy (opening of the trachea) in order
to insert an endotracheal tube through the
neck directly into the windpipe. Hospitalisation for at least a few days
usually follows this procedure.
The information in this page is presented in summarised form and has been taken
from the following source(s):
|http://www.hon.ch/Dossier/MotherChild/child_bacteria/bacteria_epiglottitis.html||Last modified: Jun 24 2002|