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Classification & external resources
ICD-10 J05.1
ICD-9 464.3, 476.1
DiseasesDB 4360
eMedicine emerg/169  emerg/375 ped/700
MeSH D004826

Epiglottitis is inflammation of the epiglottis - the cartilage that covers the trachea (windpipe). Due to its place in the airway, swelling of this structure can interfere with breathing and constitutes a medical emergency.



Epiglottitis involves bacterial infection of the epiglottis, most often caused by Haemophilus influenzae type B, although some cases are attributable to Streptococcus pneumoniae or Streptococcus pyogenes.


Epiglottitis typically affects children, and is associated with fever, difficulty swallowing, drooling, and stridor. The child often appears acutely ill, anxious, and has very quiet shallow breathing with the head held forward, insisting on sitting up in bed. The early symptoms are insidious but rapidly progressive, and swelling of the throat may lead to cyanosis and asphyxiation.[citation needed] Cases in adults are most typically seen amongst abusers of crack cocaine and have a more subacute presentation. George Washington is thought to have died of epiglottitis.[citation needed]


Diagnosis is confirmed by direct inspection using laryngoscopy, although this may provoke airway spasm. The epiglottis and arytenoids are cherry-red and swollen. The most likely differential diagnostic candidates are croup, peritonsillar abscess, and retropharyngeal abscess.

On lateral C-spine X-ray, the thumbprint sign is a finding that suggests the diagnosis of epiglottitis.[1]


Epiglottitis requires urgent endotracheal intubation to protect the airway. Ideally, this should be performed by an experienced anesthesiologist or respiratory therapist, with otolaryngology back-up in case of failed intubation. If intubation fails, tracheotomy is required.

In addition, patients should be given an antibiotic drug such as ceftriaxone or chloramphenicol either alone or in association with penicillin or ampicillin for streptococcal coverage.


Some patients may develop pneumonia, lymphadenopathy or septic arthritis.


  1. ^ Jaffe JE. Acute Epiglottits. Available at: Accessed on: December 21 2006.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Epiglottitis". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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