Treating epiglottitis 

Epiglottitis is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment and admission to the nearest hospital.

The first priority in treating epiglottitis is to make the person is able to breathe. This is known as securing the airways.

Securing the airways

Your care team will initially try to improve your breathing by using an oxygen mask that delivers highly concentrated oxygen to your lungs.

If this doesn't work, a tube will be placed in your mouth and pushed past your epiglottis into your windpipe. The tube will be connected to an oxygen supply.

In severe cases, where there's an urgent need to secure the airways, a small cut may be made in your neck, at the front of your windpipe, so a tube can be inserted. The tube is then connected to an oxygen supply. This procedure is called a tracheostomy and it allows oxygen to enter the lungs while bypassing the epiglottis. An emergency tracheostomy can be carried out using local anaesthetic or general anaesthetic.

Once the airways have been secured and you're able to breathe unrestricted, a more comfortable and convenient way of assisting your breathing may be found. This is usually achieved by threading a tube through the nose and into the windpipe.

Fluids will be supplied through a drip into one of your veins, until you're able to swallow.

Treating the infection

Once the affected person is able to breathe unrestricted, the source of the infection will be treated. As most cases of epiglottitis are caused by a bacterial infection, injections of broad spectrum antibiotics will be used.

Broad spectrum antibiotics are designed to treat a wide range of bacterial infections. Once the type of infection has been identified, a more specific type of antibiotic may be used.

Most people will need to take antibiotics for several days. As your symptoms improve, you may be given antibiotic tablets, capsules or liquids (oral antibiotics), rather than injections.

With prompt treatment, most people recover from epiglottitis after about a week and are usually well enough to leave hospital after five to seven days.

Page last reviewed: 06/05/2015

Next review due: 06/05/2017