Bronchiolitis is a type of lung infection, characterized by inflammation of the air passage of the lungs, known as bronchioles. Viral infections are the major cause, which often strike children during the winter months.
In the preliminary stages, symptoms of bronchiolitis are similar to those of common cold. As the disease progresses to more advanced stages, signs and symptoms take a severe turn, and include:
A preliminary physical examination will be conducted, to study the signs and symptoms of the disease, and to also listen to the wheezing sounds, with the help of a stethoscope. No other tests would be required, other than physical examination. However, in case the child has developed severe bronchiolitis, then the following tests would be employed to check for sings of pneumonia .
Bronchiolitis can be successfully treated at home, with supportive care. The following methods are adopted, for treating children affected with lung infections :
The prognosis of the condition is favorable, if treatment is initiated in the preliminary stages. Failure to do so may cause breathing problems in the child, and require hospital admissions. Symptoms begin to improve within 3 days, and children should completely recover by 1 week. In rare cases, children develop pneumonia, and other associated respiratory infections. However, affected children are at an increased risk of developing wheezing problems in the future, and can even develop asthma later in their lives  .
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) causes bronchiolitis in majority of the cases. It is a contagious disease, and can spread through infected droplets, that are spread in air by individuals contracted with this disease condition. In addition to RSV, other viruses such as influenza virus, adenovirus and parainfluenza virus can also cause bronchiolitis.
The condition is common during the winter season, and early months of spring. Children less than 2 years and those with a compromised immune system fall easy prey to the virus .
It has been estimated that in the US, about 25% of respiratory tract infections occur in the first year of life. It has also been reported that about 132,000 to 172,000 RSV-related hospitalizations occur in the pediatric population. The estimated cost from hospitalization is calculated to be approximately more than $700 million annually .
Anatomically, bronchioles are the small airways, measuring less than 2mm in diameter. These airways get inflamed due to viral agents, which in turn causes mucus buildup, making passage of air difficult. Such sequence of events causes difficulty in passage of air, into and out of the lungs, making breathing difficult for the affected individuals . Bronchiolitis is a contagious disease. It is spread when healthy individuals come in contact with respiratory droplets of infected individuals, when they sneeze, cough or talk .
Majority of the cases of bronchiolitis can seldom be prevented; owing to the fact, that the virus is commonly found in the environment. However, individuals are still advised to adopt certain measures, such as frequent hand washing, which can, to a certain extent, prevent the spread of the disease.
Boosting a child’s immunity is yet another way, which can help prevent development of bronchiolitis. A drug known as palivizumab, has promising effects in boosting the immune system.
Such a type of lung infection is a common occurrence amongst children less than 2 years of age. In many cases, bronchiolitis mimics the signs of common cold and cough in the preliminary stages. As the disease advances, affected individuals would also experience wheezing, coughing and difficulty in breathing. Supportive care forms the basis of the treatment regime, and children do well with medications and nebulized epinephrine .