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Epiglottitis is inflammation of the leaf-shaped lid of tissue (epiglottis) that is located over the opening to the large breathing tube leading to the lungs (trachea). This flap of tissue closes when a person swallows to prevent food and fluids from getting into the trachea.
Epiglottitis can be life-threatening because the inflamed and swollen epiglottis can rapidly block the trachea and make breathing difficult. Epiglottitis generally begins suddenly, without a previous upper respiratory infection.
Symptoms of epiglottitis may include:
In the past, most cases of bacterial epiglottitis in children were caused by Haemophilus influenzae. This infection can be prevented with the Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine. Epiglottitis in children caused by Haemophilus influenzae is now very uncommon because of the vaccine. In adults, the cause is usually a strep infection.
A child with epiglottitis appears very sick and in distress. If a child has symptoms of epiglottitis, seek emergency care.
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