The epiglottis is a specific flap made of elastic cartilage attached to the basis of the tongue. This organ is situated right next to the entrance of the glottis. It is pointed upwards during breathing which allows normal passage of air. During the act of swallowing epiglottis descends closing the glottis and preventing food and liquid from entering the trachea.
The epiglottis is commonly swollen if inflamed. Inflammation of epiglottis is called epiglottitis. Apart from swelling additional symptoms of epiglottitis include redness of the epiglottis, abnormal breathing sounds, fever and chills, excessive presence of saliva, cyanosis, hoarseness and patients commonly complain about pain.
Swollen epiglottis may affect both, children and adults. The infection can be caused by the viruses or bacteria.
Causes of Swollen Epiglottis
As mentioned above the leading cause of swollen epiglottis is inflammation. Inflammation does not only affect epiglottis. Surrounding tissues are inflamed as well. Infection of any kind is typical and most common cause of inflammation. Numerous infective agents can be engaged in the process including bacteria (Streptococcus pneumoniae), viruses (Varicella zoster, Hemophilus influenzae) and fungi (Candida albicans).
Apart from infections physical trauma may be another cause of swollen epiglottis. Direct blow to the throat, scald burns to the neck and face and especially burns caused by drinking of very hot fluids lead to epiglottitis and consequent swelling of this organ. The most severe damage which is followed by swelling of the epiglottis is inhalation of toxic chemicals or other irritants. And finally, drug addicts who smoke heroin or crack are more susceptible to swelling of the epiglottis.
Diagnose and Treatment for Swollen Epiglottis
Setting of the diagnosis starts with physical examination of the patients. Apart from obvious and signs of swollen epiglottis the doctor must examine oral cavity, pharynx and larynx. This examination gives perfect insight in swelling of epiglottis and surrounding tissues. In case of infection the doctor will take samples from the epiglottis with swabs. These samples are necessary for identification of the infective agent that caused infection. Furthermore, blood tests are performed and in certain cases doctors perform X-ray and nasopharyngoscopy.
The treatment for swollen epiglottis depends on the underlying cause. In mild to moderate infections patients are given proper medications such as antibiotics, antiviral drugs or antifungal medications which will eradicate the infective agent. Sometimes patients are given bronchodilatators. They may reduce swelling and sticky mucus that blocks the trachea.
If swelling is serious and interferes in breathing the condition requires urgent medical help. Patients are administered oxygen, they may be intubated and sometimes even put on a ventilator. In extreme cases tracheotomy is performed.