Bronchiolitis is a type of respiratory tract infection in infants and young children. Bronchiolitis causes inflammation to airways. It happens when tiny airways (also known as bronchioles) get infected by a virus. When the bronchioles become damaged or infected, they can swell or get clogged, ultimately blocking the oxygen flow. Bronchiolitis is known to be a childhood condition and more common in the winter season. Most cases of bronchiolitis can be treated at home with proper rest and medication.
There are two major types of bronchiolitis.
1. Viral bronchiolitis
Viral bronchiolitis is observed in infants. This type of bronchiolitis is caused by a respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). RSV outbreaks occur almost every winter season and infect children under the age of one year old.
2. Bronchiolitis obliterans
It is a rare and dangerous condition observed in adults. Bronchiolitis obliterans causes scarring in the bronchioles. This leads to an inflammatory obstruction in the airways that cannot be reversed.
Bronchiolitis initially starts with symptoms similar to those of a common cold. Later on, it progresses to coughing, wheezing, and difficulty in breathing. Signs and symptoms include:
Bronchiolitis occurs when a virus transmits the infection to bronchioles. The infection makes the bronchioles become inflamed and swell. This causes mucus collection in these airways, making it difficult for air to flow freely in the lungs.
As the name suggests, viral bronchiolitis is caused by viruses. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) being the most common causative agent. It usually strikes children by the age of two, but it is most common in babies under one year old. Other known viruses that can cause bronchiolitis are adenoviruses and influenza viruses.
Bronchiolitis obliterans may result from lung injury caused by a variety of different chemicals and respiratory infections. Inhaled chemicals known to irritate the lungs and lead to the condition include chlorine; ammonia; oxides of nitrogen or sulfur dioxide; welding fumes; or food flavoring fumes (such as diacetyl).
If it is difficult to eat or drink and breathing becomes more difficult in children, it is advised to visit a doctor. This is especially essential if the child is younger than 10-12 weeks old or has other risks of bronchiolitis. The following signs &symptoms are reasons to look for medical attention:
Risk factors for viral bronchiolitis:
Viral bronchiolitis affects children up to two years old. But it is more common in infants (3 to 9 months old). Risk factors for viral bronchiolitis in babies include:
Risk factors for bronchiolitis obliterans:
Mild bronchiolitis does not possess any complications. However, complications of severe bronchiolitis are:
Since bronchiolitis is a viral infection, its viruses can easily spread from one person to another. It is better to take preventions to avoid the infection. Preventive measures include:
Other common preventions that help to curb bronchiolitis include:
There are various methods to diagnose both types of bronchiolitis. A healthcare provider can usually identify the issue by observing the child and listening to the lungs with a stethoscope. However, if the symptoms are getting worse, the doctor may order the following tests:
The doctor may also look for the signs of dehydration if the child has been refusing to eat or drink. Signs of dehydration in infants include sunken eyes, dry mouth, dry skin, no or significantly less urination, and sluggishness.
Note: Always consult your doctor before going for any test.
Both the conditions not only sound familiar, but they are similar in many ways. Both are viral infections to the airways. The major difference between the conditions is that bronchiolitis affects the smaller airways (bronchioles), while bronchitis affects the larger airways (bronchi). Bronchiolitis is usually seen in infants and younger children, while bronchitis affects older children and adults.
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