Tests and diagnosis

By Mayo Clinic Staff

If the medical team suspects epiglottitis, the first priority is to ensure that your or your child's airway is open and that enough oxygen is getting through.

Initial test

A pulse oximeter is a device that estimates blood oxygen levels. This device:

  • Clips onto a finger
  • Measures an estimation of the saturation of oxygen in your blood

If oxygen saturation levels drop too low, you or your child may need help breathing.

Tests after stabilizing breathing

  • Throat examination. Using a flexible fiber-optic-lighted tube, the doctor may look down your or your child's throat to see what's causing the symptoms. A local anesthetic can help relieve any discomfort.
  • Chest or neck X-ray. Because of the danger of sudden breathing problems, children may have X-rays taken at their bedside rather than in the radiology department — but only after the airway is protected. With epiglottitis, the X-ray may reveal what looks like a thumbprint in the neck, an indication of an enlarged epiglottis.
  • Throat culture and blood tests. For the culture, the epiglottis is wiped with a cotton swab and the tissue sample is checked for Hib. Blood cultures are usually taken because bacteremia — a severe bloodstream infection — may accompany epiglottitis.
Oct. 02, 2012