Epiglottis refers to a small flap of tissue that is found at the back of the throat. The function of this flap is to prevent food and liquids from entering the trachea. If not for this flap, the food particles are likely to make their way to the windpipe as a person eats or drinks.
The rest of the time, epiglottis remains lifted up so that free air flow is ensured. Any infection that affects epiglottis is termed as Epiglottitis. Infection makes this tissue flap swelled and the airway get blocked immediately. Hindrance to the free flow of air makes breathing extremely difficult. Epiglottitis thus becomes a condition that requires immediate medical aid.
In most cases, epiglottitis occurs as a result of infection by Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) bacteria. These bacteria generally get spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The tiny droplets that are let out as a person sneezes are found to contain these infectious bacteria.
A child infected with epiglottitis is likely to have difficulty in swallowing and breathing. He probably strains his neck forward. Drooling is also likely as it becomes difficult for him to swallow food. In some cases, a harsh raspy sound also occurs.
This sound is considered as a sure indication that the airways have been blocked. In extreme cases, the child’s lips will turn blue in color. It is advisable to seek immediate medical aid without attempting any home treatment.
As first aid, doctors allow more air to reach the child’s lungs. Mostly, a breathing tube gets inserted deep into the child’s windpipe. The tube generally gets inserted either through the nose or through the mouth. It is important to ensure that the tube is held in place until the breathing pace is brought back to normal.
In cases of emergency, doctors create an emergency airway straight into the windpipe through the neck.