What is bronchiolitis?

The airway consists of a large tube, called the trachea, which breaks down into to smaller tubes (bronchi). These bronchi break down further into bronchioles, so, sort of like mini bronchi. It is these smaller airways that are affected in bronchiolitis. “Itis” means inflammation. So, bronchiolitis is inflammation of the smaller airways.

There is a build up of mucus which can block the smaller airways also. It affects children under the age of 2 years, as their airways are smaller.

What is the difference between bronchiolitis and bronchitis?

Bronchitis is caused by inflammation of bronchi, whereas bronchiolitis is caused by inflammation of the bronchioles. Bronchitis tends to occur in older children and adults.

What is the difference between bronchiolitis and the cold?

The common cold affects upper airways, including ear, nose and throat, whereas bronchiolitis affects lower airways.

What causes bronchiolitis?

Respiratory Syncitial Virus (RSV), among other viruses can cause bronchiolitis.

What are the symptoms of bronchiolitis?

Cough, stuffy and/or runny nose, fever, wheezing. Other, more serious symptoms include difficulty breathing, sucking in of the skin in the neck, in between the ribs or under the ribs, poor feeding or difficulty sleeping. Be sure to take your baby to the doctor/ER if any of the more serious symptoms occur.

How long does it last?

Like many viral illnesses, it usually lasts 7-10 days, but the cough can last up to a few weeks.

How is it treated?

If your doctor gives you the go ahead to look after your baby at home, there are several things you can do to help your baby through their infection (see previous post on getting your baby through respiratory illness). Sometimes, symptoms tend to get worse before they get better (for example, if your baby has RSV bronchiolitis, symptoms may get worse around days 3-5 of illness and then get better afterward).

  1. Saline nasal drops and aspiration (before feeds and sleep)
  2. Frequent, smaller amounts to drink
  3. Control fevers with tylenol/advil if your doctor has cleared you to use it
  4. Ensure immunizations are up to date
  5. Avoid other triggers and allergens (smoking and allergens can make breathing problems worse)
  6. Avoid sick contacts and practice good hand hygiene to avoid another illness
  7. Sometimes, babies can respond to inhalers (speak to your doctor to see if your baby may need them)

If your baby has severe symptoms including poor feeding, seek medical attention right away.