What is bronchiolitis?
Bronchiolitis is a viral infection of the lungs that usually affects infants. There is swelling in the smaller airways or bronchioles of the lung, which causes coughing and wheezing. Bronchiolitis is the most common reason for children under 1 year old to be admitted to the hospital.
What are the symptoms of bronchiolitis?
The following are the most common symptoms of bronchiolitis. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
- Common cold symptoms, including:
- Runny nose.
- Cough (the cough may become more severe as the condition progresses).
- Changes in breathing patterns (the child may be breathing fast or hard; you may hear wheezing, or a high-pitched sound).
- Decreased appetite (infants may not eat well).
The symptoms of bronchiolitis may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.
What causes bronchiolitis?
The most common cause of bronchiolitis is a virus, most frequently the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). However, many other viruses have been involved, including:
- Parainfluenza virus.
- Human metapneumovirus.
Initially, the virus causes an infection in the upper respiratory tract, and then spreads downward into the lower tract. The virus causes inflammation and even death of the cells inside the respiratory tract. This leads to obstruction of airflow in and out of the child's lungs.
How is bronchiolitis diagnosed?
Bronchiolitis is usually diagnosed solely on the history and physical examination of the child. Some tests may be ordered to rule out other diseases, such as pneumonia or asthma.
Treatment for bronchiolitis:
Because there is no cure for the disease, the goal of treatment is supportive of the symptoms. Antibiotics are ineffective in the treatment of bronchiolitis. While in the hospital, treatment may include:
- Intravenous (IV) fluids if your child is unable to drink well.
- Oxygen therapy.
- Frequent suctioning of your child's nose and mouth (to help get rid of thick secretions).
- Breathing treatments, as ordered by your child's physician.
When your child's physician feels your child is stable enough to be treated at home, the following treatment is recommended:
- Increased fluid intake.
- Frequent suctioning (with a bulb syringe) of your child's nose and mouth (to help get rid of thick secretions).
- Elevation of the child's head while sleeping.
What to watch for at home:
Bronchiolitis can last for up to two weeks and there is no treatment which can shorten the duration of cough. Cough medicines generally do not work or are not safe for children. Your child should get better slowly on his or her own, but there is a small chance of worsening.
If you notice any of these things, seek medical evaluation immediately:
Signs of dehydration like: dry mouth and cracked lips, urinating less than usual
Bluish color to lips or nails
Working too hard to breathe
Breathing too fast (generally more than 60 breaths per minute is too fast.