When to Seek Medical Care
Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room if you have a sore throat accompanied by any of the following signs and symptoms:
- Muffled voice
- Swallowing problems
- Difficulty speaking
- Fast heartbeat
- Bluish skin
- Respiratory distress characterized by drooling, shortness of breath, rapid shallow breathing, very ill-looking appearance, upright posturing with tendency to lean forward, and stridor (high-pitched sound when breathing in)
Epiglottitis is a medical emergency. Someone who is suspected of having epiglottitis should be taken to the hospital immediately. Try to keep the person as calm and comfortable as possible. Make no attempt at home to inspect the throat of a person suspected of having epiglottitis. This can cause the windpipe and surrounding tissues to close and an irregular heart beat, which can lead to respiratory and/or cardiac arrest (stopping of breathing and/or heart) and death.
Exams and Tests
- The doctor may perform x-rays or simply look at the epiglottis and the windpipe by laryngoscopy.
- The doctor may find that the pharynx is inflamed with a beefy cherry-red, stiff, and swollen epiglottis.
- Because manipulation of the epiglottis may result in sudden fatal airway obstruction and because irregular slow heart rates have occurred with attempts at intubation (putting a tube down the throat and placing the person on a machine that helps with breathing), the doctor will likely use the controlled environment of an operating room or intensive care unit to see the throat structures.
- Other laboratory tests may include the following:
- Blood tests to look for infection or inflammation
- Arterial blood gas, which measures oxygenation of the blood
- Blood cultures (blood samples that may grow bacteria), which can indicate the cause of the epiglottitis
- Other immunologic tests looking for antibodies to specific bacteria or viruses
These laboratory tests may not be useful in diagnosing epiglottitis until the person is stable. Also, the anxiety from having blood drawn or cultures taken from the throat may cause the unstable epiglottis to close off, completely obstructing the airway and creating an emergency with only a few minutes to correct.