If you're a fan of comedian Sarah Silverman, you likely heard about her terrifying health scare last week — according to a post on her Facebook page, she was laid up in the intensive care unit being treated for epiglottitis. So what is epiglottitis? If you're anything like me, you'd never heard of the condition before. Luckily for us, it's apparently pretty rare, especially in adults, so it's unlikely that most of us will ever have to deal with it personally. It's still worth knowing about, though, so here's the deal with what landed Silverman in the ICU.
According to the Mayo Clinic, "Epiglottitis is a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when the epiglottis — a small cartilage 'lid' that covers your windpipe — swells, blocking the flow of air into your lungs." Terrifying, right? What's even scarier is that this can occur over a period of days, with the problem building up as time goes on. Common symptoms of Epiglottitis include a severe sore throat, difficulty and pain when swallowing, difficulty breathing, drooling, muffled voice, irritability and restlessness, high temperature, and breathing that sounds abnormal or high-pitched — which means that in many cases, people may think that their epiglottitis is simply a sore throat, allergies, or aching as a result of over-use. You might be hesitant to seek medical care if this is the case, but consider this a reminder that if you notice something is off with your health, it's usually a good idea to seek medical attention ASAP — even if you think it's nothing.
What actually cause epiglottitis? According to the Mayo Clinic, there are multiple ways someone can develop the condition. For example, it might happen through physical injury, such as being hit in the throat, or from doing something like drinking extremely hot liquid. Swallowing hazardous objects or drug use, such as crack cocaine, can also cause epiglottitis. Outside of physical injury, other possible causes of epiglottitis include bacterial infections and viruses that are harbored in your nose or throat, such as meningitis, pneumonia, ear infections, and Streptococcus.
So, how do medical professionals care for someone who has epiglottis? Is there anything you should do if you think someone you know may have it? The National Health Service recommends calling emergency services (911 if you're in the United States) immediately if you believe you or someone you know is suffering from epiglottis. (And yes, I know the NHS belongs to the United Kingdom, but their advice is good no matter what country you're in.) They go on to clarify that while waiting for an ambulance, you should not attempt to examine someone's mouth or throat, nor place any objects in their mouth or throat. Nor should you prompt them to lay on their back. Basically, you don't want to to anything that might potentially make things worse.
Medical professionals generally treat cases of epiglottitis by securing airways for the patient to breathe, then checking for signs of infection, bacteria, or viruses in the blood. They also examine the throat and monitor levels of swelling. The NHS suggests that if the underlying infection is treated with a course of antibiotics, many patients will be well enough to leave the hospital in five to seven days. So while epiglottitis seems to be a rare ailment, it's still a super serious one; it's always a good idea to make sure you know what signs and symptoms to look out for, whether you're taking care of kids or yourself.
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