Objective: To assess the incidence, clinical characteristics, management, and outcome of epiglottitis in a defined population over an 18-year period.
Design: Case series.
Setting: The state of Rhode Island, 1975 through 1992.
Patients or other participants: Cases who met predetermined criteria for acute epiglottitis identified from hospital discharges and the State Medical Examiner's log of prehospitalization deaths.
Main outcome measures: Incidence by year and age, clinical presentation, results of diagnostic evaluations, management, and outcome.
Results: Four hundred seven cases were identified, 134 in children and 273 in adults. Incidence in children dropped from 38 cases in the first 3 years of the study to 1 case in the last 3 years (p<0.001). Adult cases increased from 17 in the first 3 years to 69 in the last 3 years (p<0.001). Seventy-nine percent of adults and 32% of children were treated without an artificial airway. Factors associated with airway obstruction included symptomatic respiratory difficulty, stridor, drooling, shorter duration of symptoms, enlarged epiglottis on radiograph, and Haemophilus influenzae bacteremia (p<0.001 for each). Twelve patients died (3 children and 9 adults), with all cases of fatal respiratory obstruction occurring within 12 h of presentation.
Conclusions: There have been significant changes in the clinical epidemiology of epiglottitis, which now occurs almost exclusively in adults, often with less severe symptoms and a lower incidence of H influenzae infection. While careful observation is indicated for all patients, the data suggest that those with certain clinical characteristics can be treated safely without an immediate artificial airway.