The Pediatric Center on Bronchiolitis in Children: What You Need to Know
Bronchiolitis in Children is a common respiratory illness. The Pediatric Center wants parents to know more about Bronchiolitis in children, causes, symptoms, treatment and how to prevent it.
What is Bronchiolitis?
Infection causes the tiny breathing tubes of the lungs, called bronchioles, to swell making it difficult to breath. Bronchiolitis is common in infants as their airways are smaller and can be blocked more easily than more mature lungs.
What Causes Bronchiolitis?
Several viruses can cause bronchiolitis in children. During the typical “cold season” October through March, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the most common cause. Infants that contract RSV infection are more likely to have wheezing and greater difficulty breathing. Older children and adults with the RSV infection only have minor cold symptoms. The infection is spread through contact with and infected mucus or saliva. This includes airborne droplets produced by coughing or wheezing. Bronchiolitis easily spreads through families and day care centers.
What Should Parents Look For?
Early symptoms are usually that of the common cold including runny nose, cough and mild fever. As bronchiolitis progresses after a couple of days the cough may worsen the child may begin breathing faster as they struggle to breathe. Parents should watch for these signs that could mean the child is having trouble breathing:
- Infant may flare their nostrils and tighten muscles under their rib cage in an effort to inhale and exhale more air.
- Infant may grunt and tighten stomach muscles while breathing.
- Infant may wheeze making a high pitched whistling sound while breathing.
- Infant may have difficulty drinking or nursing because they may have trouble sucking and swallowing.
- Infant may develop a bluish tint around lips and fingertips meaning that they are not getting the oxygen they need into their blood.
If your infant shows any of these signs indicating they may be having difficulty breathing, call your child’s doctor immediately.
Bronchiolitis can lead to dehydration because they cannot nurse or drink comfortably. The following are signs of dehydration:
- Dry mouth
- Drinking less than usual
- Crying without tears
- Fewer wet diapers than usual
If your infant shows any of the above sign of dehydration call your child’s doctor as soon as possible.
Bronchiolitis in children with chronic illnesses may cause the illness to affect the child more severely. If you think your child could have bronchiolitis and your child has any of the following chronic illnesses, do not hesitate to call your child’s doctor:
- Congenital heart disease
- Cystic fibrosis
- Chronic lung disease
- Immunodeficiency disease (such as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS))
- Any cancer being treated with chemotherapy
What Can Parents Do From Home?
Because bronchiolitis is caused by a virus, not a bacteria, antibiotics are not useful in treatment. Although there is no particular treatment, parent’s can still do much to help relieve their child’s symptoms. Airway blockage from access mucus is one of the chief problems with bronchiolitis in children. To help clear a stuffy nose parent’s can try some of the following suggestions:
- Using saline nose drops recommended by your child’s doctor to try to thin the mucus. Note: Never use nose drops that have any medication without consulting your child’s doctor first.
- Clear the airway with a suction bulb. Squeeze bulb and gently put the tip of the bulb into a nostril and slowly release the bulb. The suction will help pull out clogged mucus making it easier for your child to breath. Suction bulbs work best for infants under six months of age.
- Try a nasal aspirator using your own suction to clear a stuffy nose clogged up with excess mucus. Place the tip to your child’s nostril and the mouthpiece in your mouth to suck out the mucus. (Don’t worry, these products have filters to prevent contamination from child to parent and vice versa.)
Bronchiolitis may be accompanied with a fever making your child feel even worse on top of the added difficulty of breathing. To help relieve a fever give your baby the recommended dose of acetaminophen. Check with your child’s doctor if you have questions about the dose recommended based on your child’s age and weight.
Due to difficulty breathing and swallowing because of blocked airways, dehydration can become a concern for infants with bronchiolitis. The Pediatric Center wants you to keep your child hydrated with these tips:
- Be sure to frequently offer fluids.
- Baby may prefer clear liquids such as juice or water to milk or formula.
- Your baby may drink more slowly in order to breathe between swallows.
- Your baby may not want to drink if they are having trouble breathing, so be sure to make fluids readily available when they are feeling up to drinking.
What Will Your Pediatrician Do to Treat Bronchiolitis?
Bronchiolitis in children with mild to moderate breathing troubles may be treated with a drug that will help to open up the breathing tubes of the lungs. Some children with more severe difficulties may need to be treated in the hospital. Oxygen and medication are used for the treatment for breathing problems associated with bronchiolitis. Children that have become dehydrated will be treated a special liquid diet or with intravenous (IV) fluids. There are very rare cases where none of these treatments work. In these cases the infant may need to be temporarily put on a respirator until the infection has passed.
What Can Parents Do to Prevent Bronchiolitis in Children?
The Pediatric Center cares about the health of you and your family. Although it is nearly impossible to completely avoid the risk of coming into contact with a virus that can cause bronchiolitis the following steps can help reduce the overall risk.
- Before allowing visitors to touch you baby make sure they have washed their hands.
- Stay away from anyone that has a cold, fever, cough or runny nose.
- Refrain from sharing food or drinks with anyone that has a cold, fever, cough or runny nose.