Bronchiolitis is an infection of the airways that causes inflammation and blockage of the bronchioles. This condition is a common cause of shortness of breath in infants and children aged 2 and under .

Bronchioles are the smallest respiratory passages in the lungs. When bronchiolitis occurs, the bronchioles experience swelling and inflammation. It also causes excess mucus production in the respiratory tract.

Given the small size of the bronchioles, especially in children, bronchiolitis can easily cause airway obstruction and obstruction to airflow in the lungs. Therefore, this condition often causes shortness of breath.

Causes of Bronchiolitis

Bronchiolitis is usually caused by the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). This virus usually infects children aged 2 years and under, especially in the rainy season. In addition to RSV, influenza virus (the virus that causes the flu ) and rhinovirus (the virus that causes colds and coughs ) can also cause bronchiolitis.

The virus that causes bronchiolitis is highly contagious. Children can catch this virus if they accidentally inhale splashes of saliva from someone who sneezes or coughs because they have a cold or cough. Transmission can also occur if the child touches his mouth or nose with hands that are contaminated with the virus from items around him.

The following are some conditions that can increase a child's risk of bronchiolitis:

  • Have a weak immune system
  • born prematurely
  • Less than three months old
  • Never get breast milk
  • Live in a dense environment
  • Suffering from lung or heart disease, such as congenital heart disease
  • Frequent exposure to cigarette smoke
  • Frequent contact with other children, for example in daycare

Bronchiolitis Symptoms

Early symptoms of bronchiolitis are cough, runny nose or stuffy nose, and low-grade fever. A few days later, further complaints will appear, in the form of:

  • Shortness of breath or seeming difficult to catch your breath
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty feeding or swallowing
  • Movement looks sluggish or limp
  • Continuous cough
  • Vomiting due to cough
  • Ear pain or discharge from the ear

When to see a doctor

Bronchiolitis can last up to 2–3 weeks. Therefore, immediately consult your child to the doctor when he experiences:

  • Difficulty breathing, for example breathing looks shorter and faster
  • Noisy breathing (wheezing)
  • Difficulty breastfeeding

This is especially so if your child is under 12 weeks of age or has risk factors for bronchiolitis.

Don't delay taking your child to the doctor if there are signs of lack of oxygen or dehydration , for example:

  • Nails and lips turn blue
  • Dry mouth
  • Urinating less or less often
  • Cry without shedding tears

Diagnosis of bronchiolitis

The doctor will ask about your child's complaints and medical history. The doctor will also ask whether the child interacted with other children or adults who were sick before.

Next, the doctor will carry out a physical examination by listening to the child's breathing rate using a stethoscope. An examination using an oximeter will also be carried out to measure the oxygen level in the child's blood.

If needed, the doctor can carry out supporting examinations, such as:

  • Scan with X-Ray or CT scan, to detect signs of inflammation in the lungs
  • Blood test, to measure the level of white blood cells
  • Taking mucus samples with a swab, to determine the type of virus that causes the infection

Bronchiolitis Treatment

If your child has bronchiolitis that is not classified as severe, the doctor will usually suggest home treatments, such as:

  • Give enough breast milk or formula, if your child is under 1 year old
  • Provide adequate fluid intake for children, you can drink water or electrolyte fluids
  • Maintaining the humidity of the child's room, for example by installing a humidifier
  • Keep children away from air pollution, especially cigarette smoke
  • Give nasal drops (saline water) to relieve nasal congestion and help the child remove mucus from the nose
  • Give paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve fever (if any) with the rules for use as directed by the doctor

Avoid using aspirin or cold cough medicines that can be purchased at pharmacies, because these medicines are not recommended for children younger than 12 years.

If the child has severe shortness of breath or cannot eat and drink for 1 full day, treatment must be given at the hospital. While being treated at the hospital, the child will receive the following therapy:

  • Provision of nutrition and body fluids through infusion
  • Giving oxygen to help the child breathe

Bronchiolitis complications

Bronchiolitis generally resolves with home treatment. However, bronchiolitis whose symptoms are quite severe can cause complications, such as:

  • Dehydration
  • Lack of oxygen levels in the blood ( hypoxia )
  • Blue lips and skin ( cyanosis ) due to lack of oxygen
  • Shortness of breath (apnea) which usually occurs in babies with bronchiolitis who are born prematurely or are less than 2 months old
  • Breathing failure

Prevention of bronchiolitis

As previously explained, bronchiolitis is a disease that is easily transmitted. Therefore, the best way to prevent this disease is to minimize the risk of transmission. Methods include:

  • Keep your baby or child away from people who are sick, especially if the child is born prematurely or is under 2 months old
  • Wash your hands and your child regularly
  • Ask others to wash their hands before contact with your child
  • Keeping children at home if they are sick until they are completely healed
  • Clean frequently touched objects, such as toys and children's chairs, periodically
  • Avoid sharing your and your child's eating and drinking utensils with other people
  • Receive the influenza vaccine as directed by the doctor
  • Keep children away from exposure to cigarette smoke
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