What is Bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis commonly strikes children less than two years of age, but babies less than three months old are among those most likely to develop the condition. It is prevalent from the months of November through April, with cases typically spiking in January and February.

It is most often caused by RSV and rhinovirus and results in inflammation and congestion in the bronchiole tubes. The majority of children recover within five days and without hospitalization. When left untreated, serious respiratory problems and complications can occur.

What are the Symptoms of Bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis may initially seem like the common cold.

Symptoms include

  • Nasal congestion
  • Mucous drainage
  • Coughing
  • Possible low-grade fever

Symptoms needing medical attention

  • Wheezing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Rapid shallow breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Blue skin tone, especially around the lips and nails

Bronchiolitis Causes

Bronchiolitis is an inflammatory respiratory condition caused by a virus affecting the smallest air passages in the lungs (bronchioles). The role of the bronchioles is to control the flow of air in the lungs. When they are damaged or infected, they normally become clogged or swell; thereafter, the swelling blocks the flow of oxygen.

Viruses entering and infecting the respiratory tract cause the viral bronchiolitis; viruses are microscopic organisms reproducing rapidly and challenge the immune system. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the most common cause of bronchiolitis. This dangerous and contagious viral infection produces mucus, swelling in the airways and inflammation.

Adenoviruses also target the mucous membranes, causing about 10% of acute respiratory tract infections, including bronchiolitis. Influenza virus can cause bronchiolitis by inflaming the nose, lungs, and throat.

Adverse reactions to medicine and chemical fumes like ammonia, bleach, and chlorine can cause the condition, particularly among adults.

How is Bronchiolitis Treated?

Premature babies, those less than three months of age and those with other potentially serious health conditions should be examined by a physician as soon as possible. Lab tests and a chest x-rays may be used to diagnose bronchiolitis, but it is often diagnosed by listening to the lungs and checking blood oxygen levels. Treatment depends on symptoms.

Treatment includes

  • Clear fluids
  • Smaller more frequent feedings
  • Oral medication
  • Inhalants
  • Breathing treatments
  • Antibiotics if a bacterial infection is also present

Babies and children who are hospitalized with bronchiolitis may be given oxygen and intravenous fluids. In the rarest and most severe cases, a ventilator may be required to assist in breathing.

Bronchiolitis Prevention

With the virus causing the condition being common and spreading easily, it is impossible to prevent entirely. However, following the steps below can minimize the likelihood of bronchiolitis.

Always keep children away from a smoking environment, because they will end up smoking passively, which puts them at risk of developing bronchiolitis. Ensure your child is keeps up with scheduled immunisations and maintains a high level of antibodies, especially during winter – this may limit the condition from becoming severe if the child becomes infected.

Cover young children’s noses and mouths whenever they sneeze or cough, and encourage your child to develop this habit. Wash your hands and your child’s hands regularly, particularly after feeding them or after touching their mouth and nose.

Keep infected children indoors until their symptoms improve. Wash and dry eating utensils after use.

Keep newborn babies away from people with flu or colds; this is particularly important during the first two months of life or if they were born prematurely.