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Epiglottis Problems

Epiglottis Problems

The epiglottis is a small, thin flap that covers the windpipe. Any issue with the epiglottis can cause serious health problems. Read the following to know more about epiglottis problems.
Kalpana Kumari
Last Updated: Apr 26, 2018
To get a better understanding of epiglottis problems, let us first understand the epiglottis and its functions. The epiglottis is located in the throat. It is a lid-like flap covered with a mucous membrane. This flap is attached to the root of the tongue.
According to the MediLexicon's medical dictionary, the epiglottis is defined as, "A leaf-shaped plate of elastic fibrocartilage, covered with mucous membrane, at the root of the tongue, which serves as a diverter valve over the superior aperture of the larynx during the act of swallowing; it stands erect when liquids are being swallowed but is passively bent over the aperture by solid foods being swallowed."
Functions of the Epiglottis
Epiglottis
The function of the epiglottis is to allow the air inhaled while breathing, to pass freely to the respiratory track and lungs. On the other hand, it covers the larynx to prevent the solids and liquids we consume, from entering the windpipe (trachea). While swallowing, the tongue pushes the larynx downwards. This makes the epiglottis block the entrance to the windpipe. Once the swallowing is done, the epiglottis opens up for the air to pass through the windpipe, again.
If the epiglottis is absent or fails to function correctly, a person will not be able to swallow anything comfortably. He would cough and choke, as anything he would swallow would enter the windpipe. This is why it is said that a person should not talk or laugh while eating.
Problems with the Epiglottis
The most prominent problem of the epiglottis is infection. These infections are usually caused by virus, bacteria or fungi. Consumption of hot fluids and spicy food can cause inflammation to the epiglottis. This sensitive and delicate mucous membrane can also be damaged through injury.

All these aforementioned conditions make the epiglottis vulnerable to infection. When infected, the epiglottis becomes swollen and red. The condition of inflamed epiglottis is medically termed as epiglottitis. This is one of the major epiglottis problems. As the functions of the epiglottis is clear now, it will be easier to understand the problems one can face, with complications in the epiglottis. We shall further discuss the causes, symptoms, diagnoses, precautions and treatments of epiglottitis in brief.
Causes of Epiglottitis
The main causes of swelling of the epiglottis are infection, redness and inflammation. This can lead to the inflammation of the other tissues around the epiglottis as well. The infection is usually caused by virus. Bacteria, namely, Haemophilus influenzae type b or streptococcus pneumoniae are commonly known to cause epiglottis. They are also responsible for diseases like pneumonia and meningitis. Varicella-zoster, herpes simplex virus type 1, and Staphylococcus aureus are other bacteria that are found to be responsible for epiglottitis. Fungi, usually affects people with a weak immune system.
There are certain other factors that lead to epiglottitis. Consumption of very hot food or fluids and extremely spicy food can injure the epiglottis. Damage caused by heat is known as thermal epiglottitis. The epiglottis may swell due to physical injures to the neck as well.
Physical trauma, like a direct blow to the throat, scald burns to the face or neck, may hurt the throat badly, exposing the epiglottis to infectious agents. There are a few habits which can not only increase the chances of epiglottitis, but may also promote the occurrence of epiglottis cancer. These are smoking and consumption of drugs such as heroin and cocaine. People on drugs like crack cocaine are most likely to suffer sub-acute epiglottitis.
A few unusual causes of epiglottitis may include, consumption of buffalo fish that may cause an allergy and swelling in the throat, brown recluse spider bites, or any substance that may be blocking the throat.
Signs and Symptoms of Epiglottitis
The symptoms of epiglottitis may be a little discomforting, as the infection begins with a rise in body temperature. It strikes in a very short span of time and lasts for a couple of hours or a few days. The common symptoms of epiglottitis are;
  • Change in voice (hoarse voice)
  • Sore throat
  • Muffling and difficulty in delivering speech
  • Temperature and chills
  • Breathing problems
  • Swallowing problems
  • Palpitation
  • Discoloration of skin (cyanosis)
The symptoms of epiglottitis must be taken seriously as they cause difficulty in breathing. These symptoms can be life-threatening, because a swollen epiglottis will obstruct the flow of air to the windpipe and lungs.
Epiglottitis: Diagnosis
Epiglottis malfunction is a medical condition, which needs urgent medical attention. The doctor will examine the voice box or larynx closely. He may use a small mirror that is held against the back of the throat, or a viewing tube known as laryngoscope, for the examination purpose. In epiglottitis, the epiglottis malfunctions, thereby becoming red and swollen. For confirmation, the doctor may conduct blood culture or throat culture by taking a few cells from the throat. The culture shows the presence of the infection-causing microbe. The health care provider may also carry a complete blood count. It will show a high number of white blood cells. Neck x-ray, if done, shows a swollen epiglottis.
Precautions and Treatment
First and foremost, if you are faced with the symptoms of epiglottitis, it is important to consult your doctor. Epiglottitis is considered as a medical emergency. The medical treatment may include certain methods that can help you breathe. They include intubation (breathing through a tube), and moistened oxygen.

I would not suggest any home remedies for epiglottis problems, however, some precautions can be taken. To save yourself from the danger of epiglottitis, one should avoid intake of hot fluids or hot and spicy food. Any injury to the neck or throat should to be reported to a doctor immediately, in order to avoid further complications. Drugs should be avoided, as they do not do any good to the body, whatsoever. Also, the food that you are allergic to, should be avoided completely.
Disclaimer:This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be taken as a replacement for the advice of a medical professional.