It usually occurs in children between two and 5 years of age. The onset is sudden with:
- High fever. These children appear very sick and may be shocked due to the septicaemia.
- Drooling. They have a very sore throat and are unable to swallow or even open their mouth. This is a very important sign. They usually are unable to speak, cry, cough or drink.
- They have progressive airway obstruction. Characteristically, the children sit up, leaning forward with the neck extended to keep the airway open.
- Changing their body position or trying to examine the throat may cause total airway obstruction.
Acute epiglottitis is the one upper respiratory tract condition that can present with respiratory distress due to airways narrowing.