'Dancing With the Stars' Celeb Jeannie Mai Diagnosed With Epiglottitis—Here's What to Know About the Condition

Mai said she was "heartbroken" to be leaving the show early.

Dancing With the Stars competitor Jeannie Mai has revealed that she can no longer work on the show because she was recently hospitalized and diagnosed with epiglottitis, a potentially life-threatening inflammatory disease.

"My doctors discovered a health concern with my throat which requires immediate attention and surgery. I am heartbroken that my DWTS journey has to end here," Mai told Good Morning America in an exclusive statement.

Mai, 41, is also known for her appearances on daytime talk show The Real, and she said she's enjoyed her time on Dancing With the Stars. "I have pushed myself to new limits physically and mentally, and I am so proud of how far we've come," she said.

Her partner on DWTS, Brandon Armstrong, also shared a statement on Mai's health status: "We are devastated by the news that we're going to have to cut this season short, but Jeannie's health does come first," Armstrong said, per Good Morning America. "Thank you to all the fans that have helped get us this far and we are praying for a speedy recovery from Jeannie."

What is epiglottitis?

Epiglottitis occurs when the epiglottis, a flap in your throat with the important role of preventing food from entering your lungs, gets inflamed, per MedlinePlus, a resource from the US National Library of Medicine.

The epiglottis, which is made of cartilage, helps you keep from choking or coughing after you swallow food, in addition to keeping food from entering your airway and lungs. The inflammation of the epiglottis, which can lead to epiglottitis, is often caused by bacteria, per MedlinePlus. However, the inflammation can also be caused by viruses, including varicella zoster (chickenpox) and herpes simplex virus.

Epiglottitis used to affect more children than it does today because the bacteria that often caused the condition in children used to be more common. However, a vaccination against those bacteria, known as Haemophilus influenzae (H influenzae) type B, is now routinely administered to all children, MedlinePlus explains. (For this reason, the Hib vaccine is is seen as a preventative measure against epiglottitis, according to Mayo Clinic.)

This has made epiglottitis "very uncommon," per MedlinePlus. The bacteria that often causes epiglottitis in adults are known as Strepcoccus pneumoniae, per MedlinePlus. According to Mayo Clinic, physical injury done to the throat can also cause epiglottitis, as can drinking a liquid that is too hot.

What are the symptoms of epiglottitis?

The symptoms of epiglottitis tend to show up and worsen quickly, according to the National Health Service (NHS) of the United Kingdom. The symptoms, per the NHS, include:

  • Difficulty breathing (that might improve when you lean forward)
  • Pain and difficulty when swallowing
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Drooling
  • Hoarse voice
  • High-pitched breathing

Since epiglottitis can be fatal if one's airways become completely blocked due to the inflammation of the epiglottis, it's important to go straight to the emergency room or call 911 if you suspect that someone with you is suffering from the condition.

How is epiglottitis treated?

In an emergency situation, doctors will first secure the patient's airways, per the NHS. This can be accomplished through a number of treatments, including giving the patient oxygen through a mask, or via a tube into their windpipe. In more severe cases, an emergency tracheotomy—in which a doctor makes a small cut in a patients neck to insert a tube into their windpipe that way—may be necessary.

If an underlying infection has caused the epiglottis to become inflamed, thus causing epiglottitis, a course of antibiotics might be prescribed to treat the condition, per the NHS. (Mai, however, did not go into details about her own treatment plan for epiglottitis.)

While epiglottitis is a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention, the good news is that patients with epiglottitis usually recover about a week after they've received treatment, according to the NHS.

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