Abstract Introduction: Acute epiglottitis (AE) continues to cause life-threatening airway obstruction in children. The aim of this retrospective study was to evaluate deficiencies in the management of AE, to clarify the role of airway endoscopy, and to establish the cause of death in this disease. Material: The subjects of our retrospective study were 24 children with AE treated in the paediatric intensive care unit (PICU) of the University of Cologne between 1980 and 1994. The records of all patients were reviewed. Results: Laryngoscopy with fibreoptic or small rigid endoscopes allowed accurate diagnosis of AE, particularly in patients presented with atypical clinical signs. Furthermore, endoscopic information of the degree of inflammation were helpful in the critical decision, whether artificial airway was required. The number of patients managed without intubation increased (8% vs. 45%) since airway endoscopy became available in 1989. No evidence of β-lactamase-producing strains of Haemophilus influenzae was observed. The most remarkable finding was the high mortality in AE (12.5%). Affected children were admitted in poor post-hypoxia conditions following outdoor cardiorespiratory arrest. Conclusion: The most decisive factor to decrease mortality seems to be timely appropriate presentation at referring centres, if AE is suspected or stridor remains unclear. Fibreoptic airway endoscopy represents a major step forward in the management of acute epiglottitis, and this requires close interdisciplinary collaboration between paediatricians, anaesthetists and otorhinolaryngologists.