Swelling is most often caused by an infection from bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Other causes may be:

  • Burns from hot liquids
  • An injury to the throat area
  • Crack cocaine use

Risk Factors

Epiglottitis is more common in babies under 12 months and adults over 85 years of age. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Not having the Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine
  • A weak immune system
  • Chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure and COPD
  • Living in close quarters



Symptoms appear suddenly and worsen quickly. They may be:

  • High fever
  • Irritability
  • Drooling
  • Severe sore throat and cough
  • Voice changes
  • Problems swallowing
  • Squeaky or raspy sounds while inhaling
  • Problems breathing


People with severe breathing problems will be treated before a diagnosis is made.

In others, the doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. An physical exam will be done. It will focus on the throat.

Tests will be done to look for signs of infection, such as:

  • Blood tests
  • A throat culture

Pictures may be taken to look for problems in the nose, neck, and throat area. This can be done with:

  • Laryngoscopy
  • Neck X-ray
  • Ultrasound



The first goal of treatment is to open the airway. If the person cannot breathe, emergency care is given, such as:

  • Endotracheal intubation—a breathing tube is put through the nose or mouth to open the airway
  • Tracheotomy—a breathing tube is inserted through an incision in the neck and passed into the airway

The cause of epiglottitis will also need to be treated. Options are:

  • IV antibiotics—to treat infection
  • IV corticosteroids—to ease swelling


The risk of epiglottitis may be lowered by getting the Hib vaccine.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.