Epiglottitis is caused by an infection or an injury.
In the past, a common cause of swelling and inflammation of the epiglottis and surrounding tissues was infection with Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) bacteria. Hib is responsible for a number of serious conditions, the most common of which is meningitis. Hib is now much less common in developed countries due to Hib immunization in children.
Hib spreads through infected droplets coughed or sneezed into the air. It's possible to harbor Hib in your nose and throat without becoming sick — though you still can spread the bacteria to others.
In adults, other bacteria and viruses also can cause inflammation of the epiglottis, including:
- Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus), another bacterium that can cause meningitis, pneumonia, ear infection and blood infection (septicemia)
- Streptococcus A, B and C, a group of bacteria that can cause diseases ranging from strep throat to blood infection
- Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium that causes skin infections and other diseases including pneumonia and toxic shock syndrome
Physical injury, such as a direct blow to the throat, can cause epiglottitis. So can burns from drinking very hot or caustic liquids.
You also may develop signs and symptoms similar to those of epiglottitis if you:
- Swallow a chemical that burns your throat
- Swallow a foreign object
- Smoke drugs, such as crack cocaine