Bronchiolitis is a really common lung infection that happens in young children, typically those under 2 years old, and is caused by a virus. The bronchioles are small airways in the lungs, branching off the two main bronchi, and the ‘itis’ part of bronchiolitis means inflammation, so bronchiolitis is inflammation and congestion of these small airways.
Symptoms of bronchiolitis start off similarly to a cold with a blocked and runny nose, cough, and possibly fever. Children can also sound quite wheezy.
Bronchiolitis is most commonly caused by a virus called RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) during the winter months and often it gets better by itself. In a small number of cases, hospital admission may be required.
Kids younger than 12 weeks are most at risk because their immune system is still underdeveloped. Other risk factors include babies who are born early or have an underlying condition of the heart or lung. Kids who are exposed to smoke are also at risk of this lung infection. Breastfeeding for more than 2 months is protective against bronchiolitis.
Viruses spread through respiratory droplets that can be passed from one person to another through coughing, sneezing, or touching contaminated surfaces. The virus then enters through the mouth or nose and travels into the breathing system causing the bronchioles to become inflamed and overproduce mucus leading to congestion and blockage. Bronchiolitis typically lasts two to three weeks and a child can remain infected up to three weeks later.
Contact your doctor straight away if your child is having difficulty breathing: if breathing becomes fast, laboured or very noisy. If their breathing causes them difficulty eating or drinking, they are drinking less than half of what they usually drink, their temperature is not improving with paracetamol or ibuprofen, they become drowsy or you notice a blue tinge around their lips or fingernails, you should seek immediate medical attention.
Bronchiolitis often gets better on its own without any treatment and typically lasts two to three weeks. Bronchiolitis is often caused by a virus and therefore antibiotics don't help, they only fight off a bacterial infection.
There are some really simple home treatments that can be done that can be very effective. Ensuring your child drinks plenty of fluid is really essential to ensuring to avoid dehydration - they need more fluids on board when they're fighting an infection, they have a fever or it's hot weather.
If your child is quite congested, then using a humidifier will help moisten the airways and improve coughing symptoms. Using saline nasal drops can also be effective and safe. Keeping children upright as much as possible is beneficial.
For those under 1 years old, only 3% end up needing hospital admission. So if symptoms become severe, your child may need to attend the hospital for oxygen and fluid intake support. Oxygen is delivered via a mask and fluid is given through a vein. In extreme cases, an invasive procedure may be performed to help with their breathing.
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