Childhood Respiratory Diseases Bronchiolitis

For children under 2 years of age, bronchiolitis is a common illness. It occurs when the bronchioles, the smallest air passages in the lungs, become inflamed, making breathing difficult. While bronchiolitis is generally a mild illness, it can sometimes develop into a severe condition.

Most of the time, a respiratory virus causes bronchiolitis. Some of the viruses that can cause this illness include:

  • adenovirus
  • coronavirus
  • influenza
  • metapneumovirus
  • parainfluenza
  • respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
  • rhinovirus.

Respiratory syncytial virus is the most common cause of bronchiolitis in infants.

Passing on Bronchiolitis

Bronchiolitis is a very contagious illness. It can be transmitted when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Children can also develop the illness by touching items that contain an infected child’s saliva or mucous.

Symptoms of Bronchiolitis

In adults, bronchiolitis is usually quite mild. This respiratory virus commonly disappears completely within a week. Often, the symptoms go away in about three days. Here’s a list of some of the common symptoms seen in people with bronchiolitis:

  • coughing
  • fever
  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing.

In children and infants, bronchiolitis can become severe. If you notice any of the following symptoms, you should take your child to a doctor immediately:

  • blue skin, nails or lips
  • chest muscles that retract when trying to breathe
  • difficulty breathing
  • flaring nostrils
  • lethargy
  • rapid, shallow breathing

Complications of Bronchiolitis

The mortality rate due to bronchiolitis is less than 1 percent, and the condition is rarely severe enough to warrant a visit to the emergency room. Symptoms generally disappear after about a week. While symptoms are present, however, a few complications may occur, including:

  • infection by another disease, such as pneumonia
  • respiratory failure
  • the development of asthma.

Respiratory Viruses and Asthma

Some studies indicate that infants who experience severe cases of bronchiolitis are at increased risk of developing asthma later in life. Other studies indicate that children with repeat episodes of bronchiolitis are more likely to develop asthma. Researchers are currently investigating this relationship.

Treatment for Bronchiolitis

Because bronchiolitis is caused by a virus, the condition cannot be treated with antibiotics. An antiviral medication might be used, but to work properly, it must be given at the onset of the illness. Also, it is important to note that antiviral medications do not offer a complete cure. They simply reduce the severity of the symptoms and shorten the course of the illness.

In some cases, hospitals use steroids or an asthma medication called albuterol to alleviate symptoms.

Often, therapy involves providing oxygen or an air humidifier and draining secretions. As with other respiratory viruses, getting rest and drinking clear fluids usually helps.

In severe cases in infants, mechanical ventilation may be necessary.


Durani, Yamini (2007). Bronchiolitis. Retrieved Sept. 6, 2007, from the Kids Health Web site:

Mayo Clinic Staff (2006). Bronchiolitis. Retrieved Sept. 6, 2007, from the Mayo Clinic Web site: