Healthy Living

Croup and Epiglottitis: What’s Their Difference?

Croup and Epiglottitis: What’s Their Difference?

Key Takeaways

  • Croup is caused by a viral infection, while epiglottitis is caused by a bacterial infection.
  • Both conditions affect children.
  • Epiglottitis can be life-threatening.

Croup and epiglottitis are two conditions involving the anatomical structures located in the throat. These two conditions are almost similar because their symptoms replicate one another. Croup and epiglottitis enable a child to have breathing difficulties. Both are infectious conditions; however, the cause of each illness is different making their treatments also dissimilar. These two conditions can be harmful to the child if they are not given proper medical attention.

What Is Croup?

Croup is a viral illness that causes acute inflammation of the larynx and trachea. It affects children, especially those who are less than five years old. The onset of croup is usually lead by two to three days of common cold. The symptoms of croup are worse at night. Symptoms include stridor (noisy breathing), barking cough, a slight increase in temperature, and voice hoarseness. Most cases are mild and heal on their own. Croup is more common in boys than girls. Making a diagnosis of croup is easy, but sometimes, radiographs are needed to rule out other respiratory conditions that have similar symptoms with croup such as epiglottitis and tracheitis.

Croup Treatment

For mild cases of croup, humidity, cold air, and making the child calm and relaxed can help relieve the symptoms. For moderate cases, steroids can help decrease the inflammation of the throat. While severe cases of croup must receive nebulized epinephrine or intubation. Antibiotics are not given for the treatment of croup as these will not work. Indications for hospitalization for children with croup include a not improving condition, cyanosis, and decreased level of alertness.

Most cases of croup do not need hospitalization and children are extremely well afterwards. In cases of hospital admission or emergency department visit, most children are discharged after having steroids or epinephrine therapy. 

What Is Epiglottitis?

Epiglottitis is a dangerous infection, which is caused by bacteria. This condition causes inflammation of the epiglottis. It usually affects children who are two to five years old. Although the symptoms of epiglottitis are similar to that of croup, epiglottitis occurs all of a sudden with a high fever.  

The child can become very sick and has a muffled voice. The child will also prefer sitting upright with the face tilted upward and the neck extended in a sniffing position. This position helps the child breathe easier. Drooling can also happen due to inability to swallow saliva.

If epiglottitis is left untreated, it can result in a complete blockage of the child’s airway; thus, can be life-threatening. Fortunately, epiglottitis is now not common due to the Haemophilus influenza type b vaccine (Hib).

If a child has epiglottitis, the child must be admitted to the hospital as soon as possible and should be prepared for intubation. Performing throat examination can exacerbate the condition; thus, the medical staff must be prepared to bag the child or intubate. During admission, the child will be given antibiotics to help manage the bacterial infection.

To protect your child from having epiglottitis, have him/her receive the Hib vaccine. The Hib vaccine does not only protect your child from this dangerous illness but can also protect your child from meningitis.