Epiglottitis is a respiratory tract infection that flares up, with the potential to be classified as acute within 48-72 hours of contracting the condition. In it’s acute presentation, epiglottitis can be fatal. Though children were more affected by this condition in the early to mid 20th Century, the routine Hib vaccine has now almost eliminated the disease. However, epiglottitis is now increasingly diagnosed for adults at hospitals the world over. To understand epiglottitis we should be aware of which part of the respiratory tract gets infected and what symptoms present themselves giving us cues of when to consult a doctor.
Many of us are aware that the epiglottis is a stiff tissue located in our throat that closes our larynx (voice box) and trachea (wind pipe) when we swallow food, so that it may not slip into our wind pipe/air passage and choke us. When the epiglottis is infected the condition epiglottitis develops. Epiglottitis is a bacterial infection of the epiglottis along with the arytenoids (a cartilage and part of the larynx to which vocal chords are attached). More often than not, it is the bacteria haemophilus influenzae type B that infects the epiglottis. However, studies and doctors have now come across cases of epiglottitis caused by the bacteria streptococcus pneumoniae, streptococcus pyogenes and mycobacterium tuberculosis as well.
Symptoms of epiglottitis are the same whether they present themselves in adults or in children. Doctors usually make a diagnosis of epiglottitis on seeing the patient having difficulties in breathing and swallowing. Other common symptoms include drooling, stridor (whistling sound when inhaling air while breathing), high fever, ear pain, swollen glands and hoarseness of voice. All this causes considerable anxiety in the sufferer as it is backed by moderate to severe pain of the epiglottis, swelling of the throat and feeling of asphyxiation (or suffocation). Generally the condition can deteriorate fast and can go to acute levels within 2 days of contracting the infection.