Medical Definition of Acute epiglottitis

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Reviewed on 12/11/2018

Acute epiglottitis: A rapidly progressive infection causing inflammation of the epiglottis (the flap that covers the trachea) and tissues around the epiglottis that may lead to abrupt blockage of the upper airway and death. The infection is usually caused by bacteria. The inflamed epiglottis mechanically obstructs the airway and impairs the breathing process.

The onset of epiglottitis is generally rather sudden. Sore throat and hoarseness, frequently with a high fever, develop abruptly in a previously well individual. Trouble swallowing and respiratory distress with drooling, difficulty breathing, fast breathing, and noisy inspiration develop rapidly, often causing the person to lean forward and hyperextend the neck to enhance air exchange.

Treatment involves hospitalization and respiratory support (which may include a breathing tube, or ventilator), as well as antibiotics to treat the bacterial infection.


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Reviewed on 12/11/2018