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Bronchiolitis – Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

Bronchiolitis – Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

What is Bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis is a viral infection of the respiratory system, usually affecting the smallest air passages known as the bronchioles. Bronchioles are part of the lungs that control the airflow in and out of the lungs. When these bronchioles become infected, they tend to swell and become clogged. This will cause a block of the oxygen flow. Bronchiolitis usually affects young children and babies. However, this condition can affect anyone at any age.

Viral bronchitis affects infants from 3-months-old to 9-months-old, including children under the age of 2-years-old. Some infants have an increased risk of bronchiolitis than others.

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Risk factors include:

  • Not being breastfed,
  • Being born before time,
  • Being born with a heart condition or a lung condition,
  • Having problems with the immune system,
  • Being in crowded places,
  • Being exposed to cigarette smoking, etc.

Bronchiolitis is divided into two types:

  • Viral bronchiolitis – affects babies and infants. It is mostly caused by the respiratory syncytial virus. Children under the age of 12-months-old are mostly affected during the winter period.
  • Bronchiolitis obliterans – it is a rare and dangerous medical condition that affects the adults. The scarring of the bronchioles blocks the airflow obstructing totally the airways which can’t be reversed.

What causes Bronchiolitis?

Viruses are the most common cause of Bronchiolitis.

The most common viruses include:

  • Respiratory syncytial virus – usually affects babies under 12-months-old. It is a contagious viral infection which is characterized by inflammation of the bronchioles, mucus production as well as a swelling of the airways.
  • Influenza virus – affects both children and adults. This virus is characterized by an inflammation of the lungs, nose as well as throat. This kind of virus is especially for young babies as they don’t have a strong immune system.
  • Adenoviruses – target usually the mucous membrane and it is the cause of bronchiolitis in among 10% of the cases.

Signs and Symptoms of Bronchiolitis

The viral bronchiolitis, as well as obliterans bronchiolitis, have the same signs and symptoms. The most common signs and symptoms include wheezing, shortness of breath, fast breathing, whooping cough, fatigue, blue colored lips due to a lack of oxygen, ribs that appear sunken while inhaling air, and nasal flaring.

How is Bronchiolitis diagnosed?

Bronchiolitis is diagnosed through several diagnostic examinations and tests. Imaging test which also include a chest X-ray will help diagnose bronchiolitis among children and adults. Spirometry is another examination of the respiratory system which is necessary to diagnose bronchiolitis in adults. Blood gas tests are sometimes also necessary, with the help of which the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide are measured.

Mucus samples, as well as samples of nasal discharge, are also examined, especially when diagnosing bronchiolitis among young children and infants.

How is Bronchiolitis treated?

Different treatment options are available.

Viral bronchiolitis treatment will depend from the severity of the signs and symptoms. In many cases, viral bronchiolitis tends to resolve on its own. However, in infants sometimes even hospitalization is required when severe breathing problems occur. Antibiotics are not necessary as this is a viral infection.

Bronchiolitis obliterans is treated with corticosteroids. These types of medication reduce the inflammation, clear the mucus from the lungs and even tend to open the airways. Breathing difficulties are also reduced with the help of stress reduction and breathing exercises. In severely damaged lungs, a lung transplant is the only treatment option. 

Key Takeaways

  • Bronchiolitis is a viral infection of the respiratory system, usually affecting the smallest air passages known as the bronchioles. 
  • Bronchiolitis is divided into two types: viral bronchiolitis and obliterans bronchiolitis.