Bronchiolitis – what you need to know

Coughs and colds are common in babies during winter, but what are the symptoms of the chest infection bronchiolitis?

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It’s no secret that coughs are common among babies – and indeed all children – during the winter months.

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But bronchiolitis is much more than a simple cold. It’s actually a common chest infection, which sometimes needs proper treatment.

Here’s what you need to know about the common winter condition…

What is bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis is an inflammation of the small airways in the lungs called the bronchioles, and is a common condition affecting babies and young children.

It’s the most common lower-lung chest infection in infants. 1 in 3 babies in the UK develop bronchiolitis before their 1st birthday.

What causes bronchiolitis?

The Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) causes around 80% of bronchiolitis cases.

The virus is airborne and transmitted by close contact with people who have colds, or through sharing items such as toys, clothes, cups or cutlery with people who are ill.

What are the symptoms of bronchiolitis?

The symptoms of bronchiolitis can be similar to a cold, but the four most significant signs are:

  • Fast breathing: shallow, quick breaths not taking in much air
  • Appetite: not feeding and no interest in food
  • Cough: a distinctive rasping cough
  • Temperature: a high temperature and fever will usually accompany cold-like symptoms or a runny nose.

In most cases, the symptoms of bronchiolitis aren’t severe. However, vulnerable babies – those born prematurely or with underlying heart or lung conditions – are more likely to develop severe bronchiolitis.

The symptoms are at their worst for 2 or 3 days, then ease and disappear within 1 or 2 weeks.

In most cases the condition can be treated without having to go to hospital, but severe cases need hospitalisation.

What should I do if my child has these symptoms?

You should seek medical attention immediately. In a small number of severe cases, your baby’s tongue and lips may turn blue. If this happens, take your baby to A&E or call an ambulance.

Can I treat bronchiolitis at home?

Only 3% of cases are admitted to hospital, so if the symptoms are not severe, a healthcare professional may recommend treatment at home. You can help your baby breathe easier if he sleeps with his head slightly raised.

How to prevent bronchiolitis

Follow these few simple steps to limit the risk of your baby contracting the condition:

  • Keep your baby away from other children and people who are sick, and avoid contact with anyone who has cold-like symptoms
  • Wash your hands often and thoroughly before picking up or feeding your baby
  • Use disposable tissues and throw away immediately after use
  • Thoroughly wash any toys that may have been touched by children with infections
  • Ensure your baby is kept away from tobacco smoke

Does bronchiolitis cause any complications?

For the majority of children, bronchiolitis gets better quickly and does not leave a child with long-term health problems.

However, if a baby has developed severe bronchiolitis it can cause recurrent wheezing during childhood, disturbed sleeping, and reduced digestive and lung capability.

Some of these conditions last into the early teenage years, for example, recurrent wheezing and a cough.

One mum’s bronchiolitis warning

bronchiolitis warning

Mum Beth Foster took to Facebook to warn other parents about one of the major signs of bronchiolitis, after her 6-week-old daughter Myah caught the condition.

Tiny Myah’s stomach was moving up and down rapidly, as she tried her hardest to take in air.
“Please be aware of bronchiolitis this winter, its so easily missed and so bloody dangerous,” Beth began. “It starts with just a simple cough and cold and can turn to so much more within hours.

“Myah was using muscles in her tummy to help her to breathe that she shouldn’t even be using to breathe.

“I’ve never seen a baby’s tummy pumping so fast fighting for the breaths, and I’ve never been so scared.”

Beth then explained the timeline of Myah’s case:

“I took her to the doctor on Tuesday and he prescribed some eye drops for a gunky eye, at that point she wasn’t struggling.

“On Saturday whilst at a Christmas party she had a coughing fit and her face turned purple for around 15 seconds.

“I phoned 111 who got us an out of hours aptmt in which the doctor sent us straight to the hospital.

“When I arrived they checked Myah’s sats and 3 nurses ran off with her to immediately get her straight on oxygen, I was told they were surprised she didnt end up in an ambulance.

“We had no clue how serious this all was until that point. Shes 6 weeks old today, and we’re looking at anything between 3 & 7 days in hospital hooked up to lots of machines, on the high dependency unit in the childrens ward, on oxygen, feeding tubes and having to be sedated just to get some sleep.

“There is nothing more heart breaking. Even if your baby has a slight cough or cold, just get checked out.”

Indeed, if you’re concerned that your child’s cough or cold is progressing at a fast pace, or they seem to be showing any of the symptoms we’ve mentioned above, speak to your GP 💛

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