Bronchiolitis is a childhood disease that affects the lungs. It occurs when a virus enters the breathing system. The virus causes the tiny airways in the lungs to become swollen. As a result, a thick fluid called mucus collects in the airways. This makes it hard for air to flow freely in the lungs.
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Bronchiolitis is caused by a virus. There are several different types of virus that may cause it. The viruses are easily spread from person to person like a common
. It spreads most often through coughs or sneezes which release droplets of moisture into the air. Breathing in the air can cause the infection in a noninfected person.
Bronchiolitis can affect anyone, but is most common in children under the age of 2 years old.
Other factors that may increase your risk of infection include:
Season—winter months have highest risk
Factors that increase the risk in adults include:
A weak immune systemExposure to toxic fumes
Children most at risk are those who:
Were never breastfed
prematurelyAre exposed to tobacco smokeAre often in groups of children (as in a day care) or live in crowded conditions
Symptoms of bronchiolitis occur in two stages:
During the first 2-3 days the child will probably have a:
Runny or stuffy noseSlight fever
During the next 2-3 days, the symptoms increase to include:
Dry coughFeverSneezingRashRed eyesFast rate of breathingDifficulty breathingWheezing—a whistling noise that is louder when breathing outBluish color in the skin, especially around the lips or nailsPoor feedingRestlessness
More serious symptoms may require care from your doctor. Call the doctor if your child:
Is vomiting and can’t keep liquids downIs breathing very fast—more than 40 breaths in one minuteHas bluish skin, especially around the lips or on the fingertipsHas to sit up to breatheWas born prematurely or has a history of heart diseaseAppears dehydrated
You will be asked about your child's symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your child's bodily fluids will be tested. This can be done with: A test of a sample of mucus from the nose or throatBlood tests
Images may be taken of your child's chest. This can be done with a chest x-ray.
There is no medication to cure viral infections. The infection will usually clear on its own after a week to 10 days.
Treatment steps will focus on making your child more comfortable. These steps include:
Encourage your child to drink clear liquids.Use a vaporizer in the bedroom.If your child is coughing and very congested, consider sitting in a steamy bathroom. Run hot water from the shower. Sit in the bathroom with your child until the coughing eases.Do not smoke around your child. Keep your child away from smoke.
acetaminophen if a fever is present.
is not recommended for children or teens with a current or
recent viral infection. This is because of the risk of
. Ask your doctor which other medications are safe for your child.
Your doctor may also prescribe an inhaled medication. This may include a bronchodilator or hypertonic saline. These medications can help open airways and ease breathing.
In severe cases, medical treatment may be needed. Your child may need to be admitted to the hospital.
There is no vaccine to prevent bronchiolitis. There are some medications that may lessen the risk of bronchiolitis by
respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
. RSV is a virus which causes more than half of all cases of bronchiolitis. This preventative medication is usually given to high-risk babies. It is given monthly during high risk RSV season.
habits can help to prevent the spread of illness. Make sure to wash your hands before touching your child. Also wash your hands after being in contact with an infected person.
Bronchiolitis can spread easily from one person to another. Children should be kept home until they are well. Teach your children to cover their mouth and nose with a tissue or upper sleeve when they cough or sneeze.
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. Updated February 2014. Accessed September 8, 2014.
Bronchiolitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated August 22, 2014. Accessed September 8, 2014.
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8/10/2007 according to the following study, as cited by
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Corneli HM, Zorc JJ, Majahan P, et al. A multicenter, randomized, controlled trial of dexamethasone for bronchiolitis.
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Last reviewed August 2014 by Kari Kassir, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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