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Have you heard your little one cough and have trouble breathing at night? Bronchiolitis is a viral infection that affects babies usually in their first year of life. Let’s learn more about this condition from the following paragraphs.

What is Bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis is different from bronchitis. Bronchiolitis is a chest condition that causes breathing trouble in babies. This is a viral infection and very contagious. It can spread from babies to adults. It affects the bronchioles of the lungs and usually does not lead to a serious condition.

The respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the most common cause of bronchiolitis. Other viruses such as adenovirus, parainfluenza virus, etc. can also lead to bronchiolitis. As the bronchioles of babies can easily get blocked, their infection leads to bronchiolitis. In older children as well as adults, the infection leads to a case of bad cold.

Who Gets Bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis usually affects infants and toddlers under the age of 2 years. The condition usually occurs during winter. It is very common in children who spend time in day care and babies who are exposed to cigarette smoke. Formula-fed babies as well as boys are more vulnerable to bronchiolitis infection.

In most babies, the condition is not very serious and easily treated. However, in premature babies, or babies with a preexisting heart or lung condition, the infection can take a serious turn.

Symptoms of Bronchiolitis

Typically, a baby will develop cough, shortness of breath and wheezing when suffering from bronchiolitis. The baby may show breathlessness for many days. The symptoms may be slightly more severe than a heavy cold that initially include:

  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Dry cough
  • Mild fever
  • Loss of appetite

In about two to three days, the symptoms elevate to:

  • Persistent cough
  • Shallow, labored and faster breathing
  • Heartbeats become faster than normal
  • Trouble feeding or refusing to feed
  • Nasal flaring
  • Grunting sounds
  • Cyanosis in extreme cases

Causes of Bronchiolitis

The main cause of bronchiolitis is respiratory syncytial virus. Other viruses that can lead to bronchiolitis include influenza, coronavirus, adenovirus, rhinovirus, etc.

Bronchiolitis is very contagious and can spread through contact as well as droplet transmission.

Diagnosis of Bronchiolitis

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The doctor will conduct a physical examination of the child and listen to the breathing with a stethoscope. If any crackling sounds along with wheezing is heard the doctor may suspect bronchiolitis. A nasal swab may help in identifying the causative virus.

Treating Bronchiolitis

Most cases of bronchiolitis get better on their own within a week or two. It is important to keep the baby hydrated and thus, make sure you give him/her plenty of fluids. Encourage the baby to take feeds. Short and frequent feeds will help prevent shortness of breath. The pediatrician may prescribe infant paracetamol or ibuprofen.

Saline nasal drops may help in unblocking a blocked nose. Some babies may require oxygen to breathe and may need to be hospitalized in case of severe case of bronchiolitis.

Complications Related to Bronchiolitis

Bronchiolitis is usually a mild infection. In some cases, it may lead to asthma in later life in some babies. Very rarely, the condition progresses to pneumonia.

Bronchiolitis spreads through contact with infected person, thing or nasal droplets. Thus, make sure you maintain good hygiene around the baby and wash your hands before handling the baby. If you feel the baby’s condition is getting worse or the baby has had less than half their normal feed, visit the doctor immediately. Bronchiolitis can be treated with proper care.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: April 01, 2015