Epiglottitis is one of those severe medical conditions which may turn fatal if not attended with prompt medical treatment. This article provides some information about the signs and symptoms of this condition.
The epiglottis is a flap of cartilage that covers the windpipe while swallowing food and drink. Due to various reasons, this part of the body may experience swelling and cause blockage of air into the lungs. This condition is known as epiglottitis, which, if not treated in time, may give rise to other serious complications which can be life-threatening. One of such complications is a respiratory failure.
Here, the oxygen level in the blood drops to an alarming low level or the level of carbon dioxide reaches a critically high level. In some cases, bacteria (common causes of acute epiglottitis), may cause infections, affecting other parts of the body. So, due to this, diseases such as pneumonia, meningitis, or sepsis (the presence of pus-forming bacteria or their toxins in the blood or tissues) may occur as the complications.
Although rare, pulmonary edema may also be a complication which can onset due to epiglottitis. Here, the tiny air sacs in the lungs fill with fluid and this keeps them to absorb oxygen.
It does not take more than an hour before the symptoms begin to reveal themselves. Early symptoms of acute epiglottitis are fever, severe sore throat, and difficult or painful swallowing. Epiglottitis in adults may cause a fever of 37.8 °C. The pain during swallowing food may get so severe that the affected person may start drooling. Voice may sound hoarse or less louder, and breathing may become harsh.
The affected person may also experience difficulty in breathing. He/she may lean forward to breathe and take rapid shallow breaths. Stridor, and trouble speaking are also some important symptoms that indicate epiglottitis. In children, the symptoms include sitting in a sniffing position and drooling. Infants who may be affected by this condition do not show much prominent symptoms, as adults do and this makes it difficult to diagnose the disease in time.
The Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) bacteria is known to be the most common cause of this condition. The bacteria infect the epiglottis and its surrounding tissues, thus, causing swelling and inflammation. The infection progresses rapidly in a short amount of time and that is the reason why the condition is also known as acute epiglottitis. Apart from this organism, there are other bacteria and viruses which may also become the causes of epiglottitis.
These include Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus), Streptococcus A, B and C, Candida albicans and Varicella zoster. Apart from infections, being the common cause of this condition, an injury to the throat has also been found as a possible cause for the same. A direct blow to the throat, burns from drinking very hot liquids, burns from swallowing a chemical, swallowing foreign object, and smoking drugs such as crack cocaine and heroin are the physical causes which can bring on its occurrence.
The doctor may use a flexible fiber-optic tube to examine the throat and in some cases, a chest or neck X-ray as well. Blood test and throat culture are also some methods to diagnose cases of epiglottitis caused by bacteria.
An endolateral neck X-ray is also used for the diagnosis of the condition. In the X-ray, the swelling of the epiglottis appears like the shape and size of the human thumb. This is what is known as an epiglottitis thumb sign.
As mentioned above, epiglottitis interferes with the air supply in the body and this makes it a fatal medical condition. Thus on observation of the aforementioned symptoms, one should seek medical help at the earliest.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.