Infections - Prevention, Diagnosis & Treatment

Bronchiolitis: What are its Symptoms, Causes, Risk Factors, and Treatment?

By S.I. (staff writer) , published on June 16, 2023

Medicine Telehealth Health cough infection viral

What is Bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis is an infection of the bronchioles in infants and young children. Bronchioles are a smaller part of the lower respiratory tract [1]. The infection leads to swelling and narrowing of the airways causing respiratory difficulty. It is a viral infection that initially presents with symptoms like the common cold and eventually progresses to severe symptoms like wheezing, coughing, and laboured breathing. On average, the symptoms of bronchiolitis last for almost 1 to 2 weeks, occasionally lasting longer due to various factors. In severe cases, hospitalization is advised.


What are the Symptoms of Bronchiolitis?

At the beginning of the infection, the symptoms are like the common cold. As the infection progresses, the symptoms start getting worse. The symptoms vary in intensity in infants and young children the following are some common signs and symptoms of bronchiolitis [2]:

  • Cough
  • Stuffy nose
  • Runny nose
  • Wheezing
  • Tachypnea
  • Respiratory difficulty
  • Runny eyes
  • Low-grade fever
  • Subcostal and intercostal recession
  • Use of accessory muscles for breathing

Call your child’s healthcare provider if the symptoms become worse, especially if your child is younger than 12 weeks. Keep an eye on the warning signs such as blue skin and lips, difficulty in speaking and crying, or very fast breathing.


What are the Causes of Bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis is caused by the infection of the small airways of the lungs, called bronchioles. The infection causes thickening, swelling, and narrowing of the bronchioles. Mucus buildup in the bronchioles leads to further narrowing respiratory difficulty.

The most common virus responsible for causing bronchiolitis is Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). This virus infects almost every child before 2 years of age [3]. However, other viruses, such as those causing common flu can also cause bronchiolitis. It can easily be transmitted from droplets produced by coughing, therefore, utmost care should be taken to prevent the spread of the infection.


What are the Risk Factors for Bronchiolitis?

Certain factors can increase the likelihood of your child getting infected, which are listed below [4]:

  • Premature baby
  • Low birth weight baby
  • Age less than 5 months
  • Having a heart or lung condition
  • Being exposed to tobacco smoke
  • Weak immune system
  • Having school-going siblings
  • Being in crowded places


What are the Treatment Options for Bronchiolitis?

Most cases of bronchiolitis need only supportive treatment. In severe cases, hospital admission is advised. Antibiotics cannot help in this case, as it is a viral infection. Following are some common treatment options for bronchiolitis [5]:

  • Hydration: plenty of fluids in small sips can be very helpful. Make sure to offer fluids to your kid at small intervals to prevent dehydration.
  • Humidification: keeping the atmosphere humid can help prevent scalding. Vaporizers can aid in loosening mucus plus in your child’s airway.
  • Paracetamol: ibuprofen or paracetamol made for young kids can help with fever.









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