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.
Usually, the infection goes away after 7-10 days. Some children show very mild symptoms. In others, the disease can be severe. Older children are less at risk. If they get bronchiolitis, they don’t get as sick as younger children.
Bronchiolitis can affect anyone, but it most often strikes:
- Children under the age of two, especially between 3-6 months old
- During the winter months
- Adults most at risk are those who are:
- Exposed to toxic fumes
- Children most at risk are those who:
- Were never breastfed
- Were born prematurely
- Are exposed to tobacco smoke
- Are often in groups of children (as in day care) or live in crowded conditions
Symptoms of bronchiolitis occur in two stages:
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Slight fever
During the next 2-3 days, the symptoms increase to include:
- Cough (dry)
- Red eyes
- Fast rate of breathing
- Difficulty breathing
- Wheezing (making a whistling noise during breathing)
- Bluish color in the skin, especially around the lips or nails
- Poor feeding
To diagnose bronchiolitis, the doctor may do one or more of the following:
- Listen to the child’s lungs to check for abnormal breathing, such as wheezing
- Chest x-ray to check for swelling in the airways and signs of pneumonia (severe case)
- Sample mucus from nose or throat to test for the virus that may be causing the infection
- Blood test to determine the level of oxygen in the blood
- Blood test for complete blood count
There is no medication to cure viral infections. Doctors sometimes prescribe corticosteroids. These may help to reduce swelling and mucus in the airways. But, there is limited evidence showing its benefits. This infection usually clears on its own after a week or ten days.
There are several ways to make the child more comfortable while he or she is experiencing symptoms:
- Have the child drink clear liquids.
- Use a vaporizer in the bedroom.
- When the child is coughing or having difficulty breathing, steam the bathroom using hot water from the shower. Sit in there with the child.
- Advise smoking parents to not smoke in front of child.
- Use acetaminophen
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