Acute Epiglotitis: Its Pathophysiology, Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Let’s Learn What It Is: Definition, Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Epiglottitis is a medical emergency that can cause death if it is not treated quickly. The epiglottis is a flap of tissue found at the base of the tongue that holds food in the trachea during swallowing. When it becomes infected and inflamed, it can swell and clog or close the windpipe.

Respiratory infections, exposures to environmental chemicals, or traumas can lead to inflammation and infection of the structures around the throat, which can spread to the epiglottis.

What causes epiglottitis?

The conditions that cause epiglottitis include infectious, chemical and traumatic agents. Infectious is the most common. Influenza type b was the cause before vaccination. Currently, other organisms such as bacteria, viruses and fungi are the causes, especially among adults.


Organisms that can cause epiglottitis include pneumococcus, parainfluenza, varicella-zoster (shingles), herpes simplex virus type 1 (oral herpes), among others.

Other types of epiglottitis that are ecological and not due to infection include heat damage that can damage the epiglottis, called thermal epiglottitis. Thermal epiglottitis is caused by drinking hot liquids, eating solid foods, or using illicit drugs, such as inhaling metal pieces from crack tubes or the tip of marijuana cigarettes. In these cases, the epiglottitis of the thermal lesion is similar to the disease caused by the infection.

In very rare cases, epiglottitis can be caused by food allergies, bites, insect bites or direct trauma to the neck or throat


Usually the symptoms occur quickly. The most common include: sore throat, changes in voice, difficulty speaking, fever, difficulty swallowing, rapid heartbeat, and shortness of breath. A person with acute epiglottitis usually looks very sick.

other symptoms

  • Breathing difficulty
  • Babeo.
  • Tilt forward to breathe.
  • Rapid breaths
  • Sharp whistle when breathing (stridor).
  • Difficulty speaking.


At present, immediate hospitalization is required, since the person is in danger of sudden and unpredictable closure of the airway.

The initial treatment of epiglottitis may be to make the patient as comfortable as possible. If there are no signs of respiratory distress, injections with intravenous fluids may be helpful. It is important to prevent anxiety, as it can lead to acute obstruction, especially in children.

People with possible signs of airway obstruction require laryngoscopy in the operating room with the necessary personnel and equipment. In severe cases, the doctor may need to perform a cricothyrotomy (cut the neck to insert a breathing tube directly into the trachea).

Antibiotics can effectively control inflammation and infection. Antibiotics are prescribed to treat the most common types of bacteria. Blood cultures are usually obtained with the premise that any organism found in the blood can be attributed as the cause of epiglottitis.