Acute epiglottitis is a medical emergency that occurs when the epiglottis, a small flap of tissue at the base of the tongue that prevents food from entering the windpipe, becomes inflamed and swollen. This swelling can rapidly progress to obstruct the airway, leading to respiratory distress and potentially life-threatening complications.
Acute epiglottitis is most commonly caused by a bacterial infection, although viral and fungal infections can also be a cause. The bacteria responsible for the infection are usually Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) or Streptococcus pneumoniae.
Symptoms of acute epiglottitis can develop rapidly and include a high fever, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, drooling, rapid breathing, stridor (a high-pitched sound when breathing in), and a muffled or hoarse voice. In severe cases, respiratory distress and cyanosis (blue coloration of the skin) can occur, indicating a medical emergency.
Diagnosis of acute epiglottitis is typically made based on clinical presentation and examination of the airway. Imaging studies such as a lateral neck X-ray or a computed tomography (CT) scan may also be used to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment of acute epiglottitis involves securing the airway and providing supportive care. This may include intubation or a tracheotomy to establish a secure airway, administration of oxygen, and intravenous fluids. Antibiotics are also prescribed to treat the bacterial infection.
Prevention of acute epiglottitis involves vaccination against Hib, which has greatly reduced the incidence of the disease since the introduction of the Hib vaccine in the 1980s.
Acute epiglottitis is a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. Prompt diagnosis and treatment are essential to prevent complications and improve outcomes.