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.
The infection will usually go away after 7-10 days. Some may show very mild symptoms. In others, the disease can be severe. Younger children are more likely to have severe symptoms because they have smaller airways.
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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 cold. 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. Some factors that may increase your risk of infection include:
Symptoms of bronchiolitis occur in two stages:
During the first 2-3 days the child will probably have a:
During the next 2-3 days, the symptoms increase to include:
More serious symptoms may require care from your doctor. Call the doctor if your child:
To diagnose bronchiolitis, your doctor may do one or more of the following:
Your doctor may also order:
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:
In severe cases, medical treatment may be needed. The doctor will check for dehydration and pneumonia. The doctor will also make sure the child is getting enough oxygen. 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.
Proper handwashing 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.
American Academy of Family Physicians
The Canadian Lung Association
The Canadian Paediatric Society
Bronchiolitis and your child. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://www.familydoctor.org . Updated January 2010. Accessed July 19, 2012.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection in infants and children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated April 7, 2012. Accessed July 19, 2012.
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8/10/2007 according to the following study, as cited by http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php : Corneli HM, Zorc JJ, Majahan P, et al. A multicenter, randomized, controlled trial of dexamethasone for bronchiolitis. N Engl J Med. 2007;357:331-339.
2/5/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php : Panickar J, Lakhanpaul M, Lambert PC, et al. Oral prednisolone for preschool children with acute virus-induced wheezing. N Engl J Med. 2009;360:329-338.
Last reviewed September 2013 by Kari Kassir, MD
Last Updated: 9/30/2013