Over the past week, there has been a lot of media attention surrounding the infection that almost took the life of comedian, Sarah Silverman. I have been receiving tons of emails wanting to know about epiglottitis, what symptoms to watch out for, and how to protect the family from getting it. So today we are going to break down this life threatening illness and give tips on how to protect your family. Let’s get started!
What is an epiglottis? When you go to the doctor with a sore throat and they diagnose you with pharyngitis or even laryngitis, your probably know your condition is related to the pharynx or larynx (throat). However, epiglottis is a term we don’t hear that often. The epiglottis is a leaf shaped cartilage located at the root of the tongue. One of its main functions is to protect your airway while you swallow food. During breathing, it is pointed upward, but when you swallow food it folds downward to protect your trachea and direct the food towards the esophagus.
Why is it so dangerous if you develop epiglottitis? Location, location, location. The epiglottis is located just above your trachea which allows air to enter and leave the body. If it becomes swollen it can obstruct the airway entirely, preventing you from breathing, leading to respiratory failure and possible death.
What causes epiglottitis? The good news is that due to widespread vaccinations, epiglottitis is extremely rare. The most common cause of epiglottitis is from a bacteria called haemophilus influenzae type b, also known as HIB. This might sound familiar, as HIB is part of the routine vaccines your child gets during his or her first year of life. Various other bacteria, such as streptococcus pnemoniae, streptococcus A, B, or C, staphylococcus aureus, and viruses can all cause epiglottitis, but it is extremely rare. Trauma such as thermal burns, chemical burns, or physical injury can also lead to swelling of this area. The people that are most at risk for this illness are adults and unvaccinated children.
What are the symptoms? In adults the symptoms will progress over 24 hours. However, due to the smaller diameter of a child’s airway, symptoms will develop abruptly sometimes within hours. Children will complain of sore throat but it is not an average sore throat. Symptoms include severe throat pain, drooling, fever, inability to swallow, anxiousness, difficulty breathing and restless behavior. Children and adults with this condition tend to find comfort in sitting up or leaning forward. You might hear an abnormal, high-pitched sound when they are breathing in, known as stridor.
What should I do if my child is having these symptoms? This is a life threatening illness that needs immediate medical attention. Do not go to your pediatrician, go directly to the emergency room or call 911. Try to keep the person quiet and upright. Do not try to examine their throat as it can worsen the swelling.
How do I protect myself and my family from this life threatening illness? Easy! Vaccinate your child. By vaccinating your child against haemophilus influenza type b, you eliminate the most common cause of this life threatening illness. If you decide not to vaccinate your child, it is imperative that you know the symptoms of epiglottitis and seek immediate medical attention if you or your child start to display these symptoms. Remember washing your hands and standard germ prevention will help to prevent the spread of all bacteria and virus.
See you next Wednesday!