Bronchiolitis is a common illness that affects babies and toddlers. It is commonly caused by the RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) but may also develop as a result of other viral infection including the flu virus. These viruses cause the bronchioles, the small, thin tubes in the lungs to swell and become infected, which makes it difficult to breathe. This condition is most common in babies aged between 3 and 6 months; it affects over 30 percent of children under the age of 1 and more than half of children will have had the illness by the time they reach 2.

Causes and risk factors

Viruses are spread quickly via droplets of saliva that are released during coughing or sneezing, or spread via contact with objects or surfaces. Although the viruses that cause bronchiolitis can affect anyone, there are some risk factors which can make certain babies more vulnerable; these include:

  • Premature babies
  • Babies with congenital heart conditions
  • Babies that live in a dusty house or with parents that smoke
  • Babies that have older siblings (they often bring back infections from school or nursery)
  • Babies that have not been breastfed for at least 2 months
  • Babies with lung conditions

Symptoms of bronchiolitis

Many of the initial symptoms of bronchiolitis are the same as those associated with the common cold, such as a runny nose, high temperature and sore throat; however, as the illness develops, other symptoms may be visible; these include:

  • Heavy breathing
  • Persistent coughing
  • Emotional changes such as becoming irritable and restless
  • Vomiting (especially after feeding)

Treating bronchiolitis

Most cases are mild and will not require treatment; usually this illness passes over the course of 2 weeks. To help your baby you should make sure they take in plenty of fluids, keep your home as dust free as possible and given them over the counter pain relief (make sure you keep to the recommended doses) In more severe cases, where symptoms persist and the symptoms are more serious, you should contact your GP; your baby may be referred to hospital if they are having breathing difficulties.

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