What Is Epiglottitis?

Epiglottitis is a potentially life-threatening medical condition that occurs when the epiglottis, an organ that sits at the entrance of the larynx, becomes inflamed and swollen. It can lead to difficulty breathing and even complete airway obstruction. Epiglottitis is most common in children ages 2 to 6, but adults can also develop it.

Symptoms of Epiglottitis

The most common symptom associated with epiglottitis is difficulty breathing, but it can also be accompanied by other symptoms such as:

  • A fever
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • An unusually loud voice
  • A harsh, barking cough
  • Stridor (a high-pitched wheezing sound)
  • Drooling
  • Anxiety or restlessness
  • Cyanosis (a bluish discoloration of the skin)

Causes of Epiglottitis

Epiglottitis is most commonly caused by a bacterial infection, usually with Haemophilus influenzae type B (HIB). It can also be caused by other bacteria, such as Streptococcus pneumoniae and Staphylococcus aureus.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Epiglottitis is a medical emergency and should be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. A physician will use a laryngoscope to examine the throat and look for signs of inflammation and swelling. Treatment usually involves antibiotics and corticosteroids, and may include supplemental oxygen and mechanical ventilation, if necessary.


The best way to prevent epiglottitis is to immunize children against H. influenzae bacteria. This is done through a routine vaccination that is part of the U.S. childhood immunization schedule. Vaccinating against the other bacteria that can cause epiglottitis is also recommended.