Epiglottitis is a medical condition that is characterized by inflammation and swelling of the epiglottis. This condition occurs in both adults and children and presents a serious danger to the life and health of individuals. In particular, the disruption of epiglottis’ normal function may lead to hypoxia and asphyxia, and thus requires urgent medical aid. Understanding the pathophysiology and risk factors of epiglottitis is essential to appreciating the normal function of the epiglottis. Hence, the paper focuses on the key mechanisms involved in the development of epiglottitis and the symptoms of the condition.
Epiglottitis is an uncommon medical condition that can be life-threatening under certain circumstances. This condition affects the epiglottis, which is a cartilage structure protecting the trachea. The inflammation in the epiglottis may be dangerous to an individual because the swelling obstructs the passage of air through the trachea, causing suffocation. Discussing the pathophysiology of epiglottitis assists in understanding how the condition develops and what its consequences are for patients of various ages. Additionally, the paper will consider possible risk factors associated with epiglottitis that clinicians need to know about before diagnosing and treating the condition.
Epiglottis is a special structure that acts as a barrier preventing food and liquids from entering the trachea during swallowing. It is made of yellow cartilage covered by a mucous membrane and is located at the entrance of the larynx above the glottis (Kudchadkar et al., 2014). The cartilage in the epiglottis is relatively flexible, and thus the structure allows for the air to pass but prevents the accidental inhalation of food or drinks during swallowing.
Epiglottitis is an inflammatory condition of the epiglottis, which causes the mucous membrane to swell, thus blocking or restricting the passage of air to the lungs (Sasaki, 2018). This process can have significant consequences for the individual if left untreated, and thus requires urgent medical assistance.
Relevance of the Topic
Anatomy and physiology are concerned with the study of organisms, their components, and regular functioning. The topic of epiglottitis, on the contrary, fits into the area of pathophysiology, which is concerned with the abnormal processes that lead to or are associated with a disease or an injury. However, understanding the regular functioning of various organs helps to better understand the pathophysiology of various diseases and vice versa. By studying epiglottitis in detail, it is possible to understand the processes that affect the epiglottis and the effect that they might have on the organism as a whole. Researching the condition also assists practicing clinicians in planning for diagnostic and treatment procedures, thus helping patients in case of a medical emergency.
There are two distinct ways in which epiglottitis can develop in adults or children. On the one hand, it may develop due to an infection of the larynx, which leads to inflammation and swelling of the structure. Sasaki (2018) notes that the growth of pathogenic organisms in the nasopharynx leads to supraglottic cellulitis, which is characterized by soreness, swelling, and redness. As the infection spreads to the epiglottis, it results in epiglottitis, affecting the regular function of the organ by physically restricting the flow of air into and out of the trachea. There are many types of organisms that may cause such a reaction, including “Streptococcus pneumoniae, Staphylococcus aureus, nontypeable H. influenzae, Haemophilus parainfluenzae, β-hemolytic streptococci, Branhamella catarrhalis, and Klebsiella pneumoniae” (Sasaki, 2018, para. 1). It is notable that most cases of epiglottitis in the past occurred due to Haemophilus influenzae type B, which means that the risk of acquiring the condition can be mediated by regular flu vaccinations (Sasaki, 2018).
On the other hand, the inflammation of the epiglottis can also be caused by a physical injury. Usually, this process involves damage to the airway due to inhaling steam, swallowing chemicals or sharp objects, or smoking drugs (Kudchadkar, Hamrick, Mai, Berkowitz, & Tunkel, 2014). The potential for airway obstruction in these cases is similar to infectious epiglottitis, and thus, patients who suffered these types of injuries also need urgent care (Kudchadkar et al., 2014).
The symptoms of epiglottitis are similar regardless of the nature of the condition but may differ slightly depending on the patient’s age. In children, the most common symptoms of epiglottitis are sore throat, difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath, rapid breathing, and inspiratory stridor (Sasaki, 2018). These symptoms may also occur in association with drooling and signs of toxicity, such as irritability, cyanosis, and poor eye contact (Sasaki, 2018). Children may appear anxious and restless and will usually try to assume a tripod position to make breathing easier (Sasaki, 2018). The manifestations of the condition usually prompt parents to hurry to the emergency department, where their child can receive the necessary help.
Adults experience the same physical symptoms of epiglottitis, including sore throat, shortness of breath, and drooling; however, because adults have a larger airway, the obstruction is rarely as significant as in children, and thus they might not develop cyanosis or other signs of hypoxia (Sasaki, 2018). Another notable difference between the presentation of epiglottitis in adults and children is that the onset of symptoms in the latter group is usually a few hours, whereas adults normally take over 24 hours to develop the symptoms of epiglottitis (Sasaki, 2018).
The risk factors for epiglottitis are linked to the pathophysiology of the disease and include individual and environmental characteristics that increase the probability of infections or injuries. For example, for adults, working with chemical agents or hot liquids could contribute to the risk of thermal epiglottitis (Kudchadkar et al., 2014). For children, an unsafe home environment or the lack of age-appropriate vaccinations may be among the most prominent risk factors (Sasaki, 2018). However, there are also other mechanisms that may impact the development and incidence of epiglottitis. A large-scale study by Suzuki, Yasunaga, Matsui, Fushimi and Yamasoba (2015) indicates that severe epiglottitis was more common in adults with diabetes mellitus, epiglottic cyst, or pneumonia. Moreover, the risk of severe epiglottitis was positively associated with a larger body mass index and older age (Suzuki et al., 2015). These factors have to be taken into account by clinicians in order to provide high-quality services to patients and reduce the possibility of complications.
All in all, epiglottitis is a potentially dangerous condition that disrupts the normal function of the epiglottis. The consequences of epiglottitis for children are more severe than for other patient groups, since they may quickly develop asphyxia or hypoxia due to obstructed breathing. In adults, the symptoms and consequences are usually less severe, which is related to anatomical differences between the two groups. To reduce the risk of epiglottitis, it is essential to ensure the safety of the external environment as well as prevent infections through vaccinations and timely doctor visits.
Kudchadkar, S. R., Hamrick, J. T., Mai, C. L., Berkowitz, I., & Tunkel, D. (2014). The heat is on… Thermal epiglottitis as a late presentation of airway steam injury. The Journal of Emergency Medicine, 46(2), e43-e46.
Sasaki, C. T. (2018). Epiglottitis (supraglottitis). Web.
Suzuki, S., Yasunaga, H., Matsui, H., Fushimi, K., & Yamasoba, T. (2015). Factors associated with severe epiglottitis in adults: Analysis of a Japanese inpatient database. The Laryngoscope, 125(9), 2072-2078.