Bronchiolitis is a viral infection of lower respiratory tract. It mainly occurs in babies during the first two years of life, with majority of infection developing in first six months of infancy. The virus causes inflammation of the tiny air passages in the lung called bronchioles, hence the term bronchiolitis.
Inflammation leads to partial or complete blockage of air flow in small bronchioles.Due to blockage the baby experiences difficulty in breathing. The virus called respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is mainly responsible for bronchiolitis.
Although bronchiolitis is common in infants and babies, the disease can also affect adults. Bronchiolitis is a major cause of hospitalization in infants and babies. Treatment of bronchiolitis is symptomatic. Measures are taken to provide the child with adequate fluid and facilitate easy breathing.
What Causes Bronchiolitis In Babies?
Bronchiolitis is caused by virus that enters into the respiratory tract. Mainly the virus involved is respiratory syncytial virus. After entering into the system these microorganisms rapidly multiply to produce inflammation and increased mucus secretion in the bronchioles.
The virus can spread through droplets of cough and sneezing. The droplets can remain on hands. If such person comes in contact with child’s nose, mouth, the virus can spread to the child. Anyone coming in close contact with the droplets can catch infection, especially if their immune system is weak. Infants and babies are particularly susceptible to it because their immunity is still developing.
Other respiratory viruses which presumably are the causative agents include adenovirus and influenza virus. The incidence of acute bronchiolitis is highest in the winter and spring months.
Bronchiolitis usually occurs in babies below the age of 2 years. The risk increases in babies who are born prematurely, or have heart disease, or have low immunity. Their risk also increases due to cigarette smoke or in overcrowded places such as daycare center.
Symptoms Of Bronchiolitis In Babies
The onset of bronchiolitis usually begins as a common cold and within two to three days the symptoms of bronchiolitis starts developing. In the beginning the child may suffer from runny nose, dry and persistent cough.
As the disease progresses there is mild rise in body temperature and difficulty in breathing. Some children may vomit but it usually is not a serious problem.
Feeding in infants may be a problem because suckling is interrupted by cough and rapid breathing. The baby is alert, apprehensive and extremely irritable. Respiration is shallow and rapid with wheezing and grunting especially when the baby breathes out.
As the condition worsens, the skin, lips and tongue may become blue for some time due to low level of oxygen. Wheezing may be prominent with accompanied musical sounds. Dehydration can be severe owing to too much hyperventilation.
How To Treat Bronchiolitis In Babies?
Most cases of viral bronchiolitis are mild and often clear on its own without any treatment. However, moderate or severe cases need immediate medical attention. Especially when the baby turns blue or is grunting, he needs emergency hospitalization for intravenous fluids and supplemental oxygen therapy.
There is no specific treatment for bronchiolitis. The child is treated symptomatically. Antipyretic medicines are administered to control fever. Saline nasal drops will help to clear nose and facilitate easy breathing. At home the child should be placed in atmosphere with high humidity.
The baby should be encouraged to drink fluids. Infants can continue breast feeding. With adequate treatment, the outcome is good even in severe cases if adequate supportive therapy is provided.