Breathe easier about your baby’s bronchiolitis

(Photo provided)

Parents have been all choked up, especially during this pandemic, asking me whether their baby or toddler might have a breathing problem called bronchiolitis. Well let me put everyone in the nose, or in the know, when it comes to learning about this illness.

What is bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis is a contagious inflammatory disease of the tiny airways that lead into the lungs. It can last one to two weeks, usually occurs in winter and early spring, and usually results in not just inflammation but mucus build-up in those airways, making it hard to breathe — especially for those with the tiniest of air passages, meaning babies and, even more, infants born premature or those with a chronic heart or lung disease.

What causes bronchiolitis?

Viruses that can be spread by someone sneezing, coughing or even by touch cause bronchiolitis. While influenza and some types of coronavirus have been found to cause bronchiolitis, the most common culprit is a virus called respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, which means that just because your baby got a flu shot does not mean they are immune from getting RSV bronchiolitis.

How do you know if your child has it?

Bronchiolitis may start with symptoms similar to the common cold, including a runny nose, cough or fever, and this then develops into lots of nasal congestion followed by wheezing and trouble breathing, almost as if your baby had asthma — but they are usually too young for us to call that wheezing asthma.

How to treat it

Treatment for most children is mild and supportive and should involve keeping your infant hydrated and, if necessary, suctioning out mucus with a suction bulb and saline nose drops to enable easier breathing.

When to seek testing

If despite these suggestions, your infant or toddler is still having trouble breathing or staying hydrated, please talk to your child’s health care professional to determine if additional viral testing for RSV, influenza or COVID is needed — especially if a hospitalization is recommended to help provide further supportive treatments until the virus has taken its course.

Can you prevent bronchiolitis?

Prevention involves the same things you do to prevent influenza or coronavirus: frequent hand washing, wearing a mask if you are worried about coronavirus, and staying physically distanced from others not in the immediate family.

Hopefully, tips like these will allow you and your young child to breathe more easily the next time you are concerned about their getting bronchiolitis.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of pediatrics at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and NBC5.


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