Inflammation of the epiglottis/Epiglottitis

Inflammation of the epiglottis is a rare condition that mainly occurs in children between one and six years old. The epiglottis is a small piece of tissue that prevents food from entering the trachea. In case of inflammation, the epiglottis expands, which can close off access to the trachea. This life-threatening condition is also known as epiglottitis.


  • High fever
  • Severe sore throat
  • Swallowing problems
  • Saliva drips from mouth
  • Breathing is rapid and spasmodic
  • Hoarseness
  • In babies, a grunting sound when inhaling

If the trachea remains blocked for a long time, the patient may experience major breathing problems. When there is a shortage of oxygen, the lips, tongue and skin turn blue. A patient with epiglottitis will prefer to sit upright. The chin is lifted up to take in as much oxygen as possible. An inflamed epiglottis is life-threatening because the patient can suffocate.


In most cases, the inflammation of the epiglottis occurs after an infection with the bacterium haemophilus influenzae B. Most children nowadays receive a vaccination against this bacterium, which has made epiglottitis rare. However, the epiglottis can become inflamed by many other bacteria and viruses. In most cases, children are the victims, but this condition can affect anyone. In adults, streptococci often underlie the inflammation.


If epiglottitis is suspected, it is important not to touch the throat. Because the patient is already in severe respiratory distress, any wrong move can be fatal. Placing a tongue depressor in the mouth is also not a good idea if there may be an inflamed epiglottis. The diagnosis is usually made on the basis of the known symptoms. The examination is often done in the operating room or in intensive care, so that intervention can be done at any time to clear the airways.

Difference with pseudocroup

The shortness of breath that epiglottitis causes should not be confused with pseudocroup. The latter is an inflammation of the upper airways. Pseudocroup is much less serious and is caused by a virus. In contrast to an inflamed epiglottis, pseudocroup almost never leads to life-threatening conditions.


In the case of an inflamed epiglottis, it is important to get the patient to the hospital as quickly as possible. If a child turns blue, can no longer swallow or breathe properly, it is important to call the doctor immediately. In life-threatening situations, 112 should be called immediately. Epiglottitis always requires hospitalization, often in intensive care. The patient receives a tube in the airways to ensure that he or she receives oxygen. The sick person receives fluids, nutrients and antibiotics through an IV. Medicines are also given to combat further swelling of the epiglottis. Ventilation is often necessary.


If timely action is taken in a patient with an inflamed epiglottis, a successful recovery will follow. The tube can be removed from the trachea within two to three days. Most sick people recover from epiglottitis within a week. Sometimes an abscess remains on the epiglottis. This is usually the case if the epiglottis does not heal. Abscesses must be removed surgically.

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