What is Bronchiolitis?
Bronchiolitis is condition that affects the bronchioles, which are the tiny airways that lead to the lungs. The bronchi branch off from the main airway (trachea) to the lungs - one to the left lung, one to the right. At the lung, the bronchi branch off into minute air passages, which distribute air throughout the lungs. These airways become inflamed, swollen, and filled with mucus. Because a baby's bronchioles are so small, it is easier for the build-up of mucus to affect their breathing.
Bronchiolitis affects infants usually between the ages of 3-6 months and usually between October and March.
This condition has several causes, the most common of which is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), but bronchiolitis can be caused by the common cold virus or the flu. The condition is contagious and can be contracted through inhaling tiny air droplets, or touching a contaminated surface then touching your ears, nose, or mouth.
Symptoms of Bronchiolitis
Depending on the type of virus your baby has been exposed to, symptoms may appear after several days to up to a week after exposure. In total, the infection usually lasts about 12 days although babies who develop a more severe case may have a cough that lasts for weeks. Generally, though, symptoms will peak on the second or third day after the child starts coughing or having difficulty breathing, and then start to improve after that.
The initial symptoms are similar to those of a cold:
- runny, stuffy nose
- dry cough
- slight fever
- loss of appetite.
Symptoms usually worsen or peak after two or three days to:
- a more persistent cough
- faster, more shallow and labored breathing
- increased heart rate
- may refuse to feed altogether
While most cases are minor and can be treated/managed at home, about two percent of babies can develop severe bronchiolitis requiring hospitalization. If your baby is experiencing any of the below symptoms, he or she should see a doctor right away:
- has had less than half the usual amount of milk over a 24-hour period