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Epiglottitis is inflammation of the tissue that covers the trachea (windpipe). It is a life-threatening disease.

What is it?

The epiglottis is a piece of stiff, yet flexible tissue (cartilage) at the back of the tongue. It closes your windpipe (trachea) when you swallow so food does not enter your airways. This helps prevent coughing or choking after swallowing.

It can be linked to bacteria or virus and was common in children aged 2 – 6. It has been rarely seen for the last 15 years due to the Hib injection.

Unfortunately recently it has reappeared in both children and some adults.


Epiglottitis begins with a high fever and sore throat. You may also see:

  • They may be cyanotic which is blue skin colouring.
  • Drooling
  • Difficulty breathing (sit them up in an upright position and lean slightly forward to breathe
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Chills, shaking
  • Voice changes.
  • Abnormal breathing sounds sometimes called stridor. Can sometimes be mistaken for a croup sound cough.


Sit the person forward in an upright position.

It is a medical emergency so an ambulance needs to be called.

Do not attempt to examine the throat or airway as you can cause the airway to spasm and close down .

This is usually a stay in hospital and the patient may be put on a ventilator.

As I have alreadt said it is a life-threatning emergency but with prompt medical assistance and treatment the outcome is usually very good.

I have attached a copy of the NHS Choices handout and a link to the page.





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