Skip to content
    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Epiglottitis

    Epiglottitis Overview

    Epiglottitis is a medical emergency that may result in death if not treated quickly. The epiglottis is a flap of tissue at the base of the tongue that keeps food from going into the trachea, or windpipe, during swallowing. When it gets infected and inflamed, it can obstruct, or close off, the windpipe, which may be fatal unless promptly treated.

    Respiratory infection, environmental exposure, or trauma may result in inflammation and infection of other structures around the throat. This infection and inflammation may spread to the epiglottis as well as other upper airway structures. Epiglottitis usually begins as an inflammation and swelling between the base of the tongue and the epiglottis. With continued inflammation and swelling of the epiglottis, complete blockage of the airway may occur, leading to suffocation and death. Even a little narrowing of the windpipe can dramatically increase the resistance of an airway, making breathing much more difficult.

    Autopsies of people with epiglottitis have shown distortion of the epiglottis and its associated structures, including the formation of abscesses (pockets of infection). For unknown reasons, adults with epiglottic involvement are more likely than children to develop epiglottic abscesses.

    Epiglottitis was first described in the 18th century but was first accurately defined by Le Mierre in 1936. In fact, although George Washington's death in 1796 was attributed by some to quinsy (today we call it peritonsillar abscess), which is a pocket of pus behind the tonsils, it could have actually been due to epiglottitis.

    In the past, epiglottitis was more common in children than in adults. This difference was believed to be because of the smaller diameter of children's epiglottic opening when compared to adults. Epiglottitis in the very young (younger than 1 year of age) is unusual.

    In the past, Haemophilus influenzae type b (or Hib) was the most common organism related to epiglottitis. Since 1985, with the widespread vaccination against Hib, the overall incidence of the disease among children has dropped dramatically.

    A conservative estimate of the incidence of epiglottitis is 1 case per 100,000 people in the U.S. each year.


    1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

    Hot Topics

    WebMD Video: Now Playing

    Click here to wach video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

    Which sex is the worst about washing up? Why is it so important? We’ve got the dirty truth on how and when to wash your hands.

    Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

    Popular Slideshows & Tools on WebMD

    disciplining a boy
    Types, symptoms, causes.
    fruit drinks
    Eat these to think better.
    embarrassed woman
    Do you feel guilty after eating?
    diabetes supply kit
    Pack and prepare.
    Balding man in mirror
    Treatments & solutions.
    birth control pills
    Which kind is right for you?
    Remember your finger
    Are you getting more forgetful?
    sticky notes on face
    10 tips to clear your brain fog.
    Close up of eye
    12 reasons you're distracted.
    woman biting a big ice cube
    Habits that wreck your teeth.
    apple slices with peanut butter
    What goes best with workouts?
    Pink badge on woman chest to support breat cancer
    Myths and facts.

    Pollen counts, treatment tips, and more.

    It's nothing to sneeze at.

    Loading ...

    Sending your email...

    This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

    Thanks!

    Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

    Women's Health Newsletter

    Find out what women really need.