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Epiglottis in children: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About epiglottitis in children

Epiglottis is a small cartilage found at the back of tongue, covering the opening of the wind pipe. It is responsible for keeping the wind pipe also called trachea closed during swallowing and thus preventing food from entering inside it. Any infection or inflammation of this cartilage is termed as epiglottitis which is a potentially fatal condition.

Epiglottitis in children: Incidence, age and sex

Epiglottitis is an illness of childhood, which usually affects children between 1 to 5 years of age. However it may affect an individual at any age. The incidence of epiglottitis has diminished progressively in recent times with advent of Haemophillus influenzae vaccine.

Signs and symptoms of epiglottitis in children: Diagnosis

This illness is characterised by sudden appearance of certain symptoms which usually progress rapidly. The initial clinical features are sore throat and fever with chills. The child may also experience difficulty in breathing which may be noisy during inspiration. Other symptoms include hoarseness of voice, discomfort during swallowing or drooling of saliva.

The physical examination by a respiratory specialist may reveal retraction of chest muscles which is a sign of difficult breathing. Furthermore, examination of throat from inside by a procedure called laryngoscopy may reveal a red and swollen epiglottis. Culture of the throat swab may show the offending micro-organism thereby helping in confirming the diagnosis.

Causes and prevention of epiglottitis in children

Epiglottitis is a bacterial infection most commonly caused by bacteria Haemophillus influenzae. However other bacteria or rarely some viruses may also be responsible for infecting epiglottis. Infection of epiglottis may cause it to become swollen and red, thereby leading to difficulty in breathing.

Epiglottitis is an air-borne infection which may be prevented from spreading by frequent washing of hands and avoiding close contact with affected individuals. Moreover, appropriate and timely vaccination of children is essential in preventing such illness.

Epiglottitis in children: Complications

Epiglottitis may result in serious, life-threatening health concerns, especially in infants. Such complications constitute cyanosis which signifies impaired oxygen supply to the tissues and is manifested by bluish discolouration of skin, lips and nails. This is an emergency condition and needs immediate attention. Furthermore, swelling of the epiglottis may obstruct the opening of windpipe, thereby resulting in a serious breathing problem. This is also a potentially fatal condition demanding immediate medical attention.

Epiglottitis in children: Treatment

Epiglottitis is a treatable condition wherein the patient recovers fully when managed promptly. The affected individual should be immediately hospitalised, once diagnosis of epiglottitis is established. Supportive therapy along with measures in assisting adequate breathing is the mainstay of treatment. Either, humidified oxygen or intubation may be required depending upon the condition of the individual. Anti-inflammatory drugs are prescribed to minimise the swelling of the epiglottis and improve breathing. Medication like anti-pyretics and medicated aerosols may offer benefit to the affected individual.