Epiglottitis

  • Definition

    Epiglottitis is inflammation of the cartilage that covers the trachea (windpipe).

    See also: Croup


    Alternative Names

    Supraglottitis


    Causes, incidence, and risk factors

    Epiglottitis is a life-threatening disease. The epiglottis is a piece of cartilage at the back of the tongue. Its job is to close off the windpipe when swallowing. It keeps food from entering the airways, so you don't cough or choke after swallowing.

    Epiglottitis is swelling of the epiglottis, which may block the windpipe and lead to breathing problems. Swelling of the epiglottis is usually caused by the bacteria Haemophilus influenzae (H. influenzae), although it may also be caused by other bacteria or viruses that lead to upper respiratory infections.

    Epiglottitis is now very uncommon, but it was most common in children ages 2 - 6. Rarely, epiglottitis can occur in adults, and it may be easily overlooked in such patients.

    The occurrence of epiglottitis has decreased dramatically in the United States since the H. influenzae type B (Hib) vaccine became a routine childhood immunization in the late 1980s.