Bronchiolitis is a lung infection that can be common in young children and infants. It causes bronchioles (small airways in the lung) to get inflamed and congested. The sickness is usually caused by a virus, which infects the smallest airways in the lungs. The bronchioles become inflamed and produce mucus, which causes difficulty breathing. It is most common during winter months. The symptoms begin like a cold and then progress to wheezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms can last a few weeks to a month. Normally, children can heal at home without requiring hospitalization.
- Runny nose
- Stuffy nose
- Low grade fever
- Difficulty breathing
- Whistling noise when the child breathes
Most cases of bronchiolitis are caused by the by Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). RSV is very common and infects almost every child by the age of 2. Outbreaks of the virus occur every winter. The virus can be spread easily through droplets in the air when someone with RSV coughs, sneezes, or talks. It can also be spread by touching shared objects such as door handles, toys or utensils and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
Infants younger than the age of 3 are at the greatest risk of getting RSV because their immune systems are not fully developed.
Other factors include:
- A depressed immune system
- A child with a heart or lung condition
- Exposure to tobacco smoke
- Contact with multiple children
- Siblings who attend school
When to see a doctor
Call the doctor if your child has the following symptoms:
- Difficulty eating, swallowing, or drinking
- Breathing becomes rapid and shallow
- Skin turns pale
- Sluggish appearance
Call 911 or take your child to the nearest emergency room if your child has the following symptoms:
- Respiratory distress
- Lethargic appearance
- Skin turns blue
Prevention and Treatment
The best prevention for bronchiolitis is washing your hands frequently; especially before touching a child when you’ve had a respiratory illness. If your child has bronchiolitis, keep them home until they are well to prevent the spreading of the infection.
More prevention tips: Don’t allow children to share drinking glasses or utensils with others, teach children to cover their coughs and sneezes and Disinfect surfaces in your home.
Vaccines and Medication
There are no vaccines for the most common forms of RSV, but an annual flu shot is recommended for everyone over 6 months old.