Print-Friendly
Bookmarks

Bronchiolitis

 

Bronchiolitis is swelling and mucus buildup in the smallest air passages in the lungs (bronchioles). It is usually due to a viral infection.

Bronchiolitis usually affects children under the age of 2, with a peak age of 3 to 6 months. It is a common, and sometimes severe illness. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the most common cause. More than half of all infants are exposed to this virus by their first birthday.

Other viruses that can cause bronchiolitis include:

  • Adenovirus
  • Influenza
  • Parainfluenza

The virus is spread to infants by coming into direct contact with nose and throat fluids of someone who has the illness. This can happen when another child or an adult who has a virus:

  • Sneezes or coughs nearby and tiny droplets in the air are then breathed in by the infant
  • Touches toys or other objects that are then touched by the infant

Bronchiolitis occurs more often in the fall and winter than other times of the year. It is a very common reason for infants to be hospitalized during winter and early spring.

Risk factors of bronchiolitis include:

  • Being around cigarette smoke
  • Being younger than 6 months old
  • Living in crowded conditions
  • Not being breastfed
  • Being born before 37 weeks of pregnancy

Symptoms

 

Some children have few or mild symptoms.

Bronchiolitis begins as a mild upper respiratory infection. Within 2 to 3 days, the child develops more breathing problems, including wheezing and a cough.

 

Symptoms include:

  • Bluish skin due to lack of oxygen (cyanosis) - emergency treatment is needed
  • Breathing difficulty including wheezing and shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Muscles around the ribs sink in as the child tries to breathe in (called intercostal retractions)
  • Infant's nostrils get wide when breathing
  • Rapid breathing (tachypnea)

 

Exams and Tests

 

The health care provider will perform a physical exam. Wheezing and crackling sounds may be heard through the stethoscope.

Tests that may be done include:

  • Blood gases
  • Chest x-ray
  • Culture of a sample of nasal fluid to determine the virus causing the disease

 

Treatment

 

The main focus of treatment is to relieve symptoms, such as difficulty breathing and wheezing.

Antibiotics do not work against viral infections. Medicines that treat viruses may be used to treat very ill children.

At home, measures to relieve symptoms can be used. Have your child:

  • Drink plenty of fluids. Breast milk or formula  is fine for children younger than 12 months. Electrolyte drinks, such as Pedialyte, are also OK for infants.
  • Breathe moist (wet) air to help loosen sticky mucus. Use a humidifier to moisten the air.
  • Get plenty of rest.

Do not allow anyone to smoke in the house, car, or anywhere near your child. Children who are having trouble breathing may need to stay in the hospital. There, treatment may include oxygen therapy and fluids given through a vein (IV).

 

Outlook (Prognosis)

 

Breathing often gets better by the third day and symptoms mostly clear within a week. In rare cases, pneumonia or more severe breathing problems develop.

Some children may have problems with wheezing or asthma as they get older.

 

When to Contact a Medical Professional

 

Call your provider right away or go to the emergency room if your child:

  • Becomes extremely tired
  • Has bluish color in the skin, nails, or lips
  • Starts breathing very fast
  • Has a cold that suddenly worsens
  • Has difficulty breathing
  • Has nostril flarings or chest retractions when trying to breathe

 

Prevention

 

Most cases of bronchiolitis cannot be prevented because the viruses that cause the infection are common in the environment. Careful hand washing, especially around infants, can help prevent the spread of viruses.

A medicine called palivizumab (Synagis) that boosts the immune system may be recommended for certain children. Your child's doctor will let you know if this medicine is right for your child.

 

 

References

Bower J, McBride JT. Bronchiolitis. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 68.

Coates BM, Camarda LE, Goodman DM. Wheezing, bronchiolitis, and bronchitis. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St Geme JW III, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 391.

Ralston SL, Lieberthal AS, Meissner HC, et al, American Academy of Pediatrics. Clinical practice guideline: the diagnosis, management, and prevention of bronchiolitis. Pediatrics. 2014;134:e1474-e1502. PMID: 25349312 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25349312.

BACK TO TOP

 
  • What causes wheezing?

    What causes wheezing?

    Animation

  • Bronchiolitis

    Bronchiolitis

    illustration

  • Normal lungs and alveoli

    Normal lungs and alveoli

    illustration

  • What causes wheezing?

    Animation

  • Bronchiolitis

    Bronchiolitis

    illustration

  • Normal lungs and alveoli

    Normal lungs and alveoli

    illustration

Self Care

 
     

    Review Date: 7/10/2015

    Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

    The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
    adam.com

     
     
     

     

     

    A.D.A.M. content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Firefox and Google Chrome browser.