KidsMD Health Topics

Our Health Topics

Epiglottitis

  • Overview

    Epiglottitis is a life-threatening bacterial infection that occurs when the epiglottis — a small piece of cartilage that covers the windpipe — swells, obstructing the flow of air into your child's lungs. At Boston Children's Hospital, the Division of Infectious Diseases provides comprehensive inpatient and outpatient care for this unusual infection.

    • The Hib vaccine, which prevents epiglottitis, has made this condition very rare.
    • Epiglottitis is very serious and requires immediate emergency treatment.
    • Epiglottitis usually occurs in children 2 to 8 years of age. 
    • Family and close contacts that have been exposed to a child with epiglottitis will also need to take an antibiotic.
     
    »
    Boston Children's Hospital
    333 Longwood Avenue
    3rd Floor
    Boston MA 02115

      617-355-6460


  • In-Depth

    What is epiglottitis?

    Epiglottitis is a life-threatening bacterial infection that occurs when the epiglottis—a small piece of cartilage that covers the windpipe—swells, obstructing the flow of air into your child's lungs.

    What causes epiglottitis?

    Epiglottitis is a bacterial infection, which is spread through the upper respiratory tract. The bacteria is usually Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib). No one really knows why some children develop the disease, while others don't.

    Is epiglottitis common?

    The Hib vaccine, recommended for infants at 2, 4, 6 and 15 to 18 months of age protects against this bacteria, making the condition very rare for infants.

    What are the symptoms ofepiglottitis?

    While symptoms may vary from child to child, the most common include:

    • upper respiratory infections
    • quick onset of a very sore throat
    • fever
    • muffled voice
    • no cough
    • drooling
    • unable to talk
    • child sits leaning forward
    • child keeps his mouth open

    Can you prevent epiglottitis?

    Epiglottitis caused by the bacteria Hib can be prevented with vaccines that start at the age of 2 months. Epiglottitis caused by other organisms can't be prevented at this time, but are much less common. Most people who get the Hib vaccine don't have any problems with it. Some minor problems may include:

    • redness, warmth or swelling in the location where the shot was given
    • fever
  • Tests

    How does a doctor know that it's epiglottitis?

    Because of the severity of the disease and the need for immediate care, the diagnosis is usually made on physical appearance and a thorough medical history. If epiglottitis is suspected, your child will immediately be transferred to the hospital.

    At the hospital, the following tests may be performed to confirm the diagnosis:

    • x-ray of the neck
    • blood tests
    • visualization of the airway
  • Epiglottitis requires immediate emergency care to prevent your child from stopping breathing. Once your child is being monitored, the airway is safe and antibiotics are started, the disease usually stops progressing within 24 hours. Complete recovery takes longer and depends on each child's condition.

    Treatment may include:

    • closely monitoring your child's airway
    • if needed, assisting your child's breathing with machines
    • intravenous (IV) therapy with antibiotics to treat the infection
    • steroid medication (to reduce airway swelling)
    • intravenous (IV) fluids, until the child can swallow again

    If your child is diagnosed with epiglottitis, your family or other close contacts are usually treated with a medication called Rifampin, to prevent the disease in those people who might have been exposed.

Request an Appointment

If this is a medical emergency, please dial 9-1-1. This form should not be used in an emergency.

Patient Information
Date of Birth:
Contact Information
Appointment Details
Send RequestIf you do not see the specialty you are looking for, please call us at: 617-355-6000.International visitors should call International Health Services at +1-617-355-5209.
Please complete all required fieldsThis department is currently not accepting appointment requests onlineThis department is currently not accepting appointment requests online

Thank you.

Your request has been successfully submitted

You will be contacted within 1 business day.

If you have questions or would like more information, please call:

617-355-6000 +1-617-355-6000
close
Find a Doctor
Search by Clinician's Last Name or Specialty:
Select by Location:
Search by First Letter of Clinician's Last Name: *ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ
More optionsSearch
Condition & Treatments
Search for a Condition or Treatment:
Show Items Starting With: *ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ
View allSearch
Visitor Information
The future of pediatrics will be forged by thinking differently, breaking paradigms and joining together in a shared vision of tackling the toughest challenges before us.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO
Close