Bronchiolitis is a common respiratory illness that primarily affects infants and young children. It is usually caused by a viral infection, with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) being the most common culprit. Other viruses, such as rhinovirus, adenovirus, and influenza virus, can also cause bronchiolitis.
Bronchiolitis occurs when the small airways in the lungs, called bronchioles, become inflamed and swollen. This inflammation can cause the bronchioles to fill with mucus, making it difficult for air to flow freely through the airways. As a result, symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing may occur.
Common signs and symptoms of bronchiolitis include:
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Cough, which may worsen over several days
- Rapid or shallow breathing
- Wheezing or noisy breathing
- Retractions, where the skin between the ribs and around the neck sinks in with each breath
- Fever (though not all children with bronchiolitis will have a fever)
- Irritability or decreased appetite
Bronchiolitis is usually a self-limiting condition, meaning it tends to resolve on its own without specific treatment. Most cases of bronchiolitis can be managed at home with supportive care, which may include:
- Maintaining hydration: Offering frequent small amounts of fluids to prevent dehydration.
- Using a humidifier: Adding moisture to the air can help loosen mucus and ease breathing.
- Saline nasal drops: These drops can help clear nasal congestion in infants who are having difficulty feeding.
- Keeping the air clean: Avoiding exposure to smoke, dust, and other irritants that can worsen symptoms.
- Providing comfort measures: Such as elevating the head of the bed to make breathing easier and ensuring the child gets plenty of rest.
In some cases, particularly when symptoms are severe or the child is having significant difficulty breathing, hospitalization may be required. In the hospital, supportive measures such as supplemental oxygen and intravenous fluids may be provided. Rarely, certain medications like bronchodilators or antiviral medications may be used, but their effectiveness is limited in most cases of bronchiolitis.
Prevention of bronchiolitis involves practicing good hygiene, such as frequent handwashing, avoiding close contact with sick individuals, and keeping infants away from crowded places during peak respiratory virus seasons. Additionally, the RSV vaccine (Synagis) may be recommended for certain high-risk infants to reduce the severity of RSV infections.
If you suspect your child has bronchiolitis or if you have further concerns, it is important to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate management.