Childhood Respiratory Diseases Bronchitis

Bronchitis and bronchiolitis are similar conditions that affect the airways and commonly occur in children. The conditions are usually mild and are most often respiratory viruses, often clearing on their own in a few days or a few weeks. Bronchitis affects the bronchi (airways in the lungs) and causes inflammation and increased mucous production. Bronchitis comes in two forms: acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis.

Causes of Bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis is an ongoing, recurrent condition that most often affects adults. When children get bronchitis, it is most often in the form of acute bronchitis.

Acute bronchitis is most often caused by a virus or by bacteria. However, in some cases, things in the air or the environment can cause bronchitis. Environmental elements that can cause bronchitis include:

  • allergens
  • chemical fumes
  • cigarette and tobacco smoke
  • dust.

Children with asthma are more at risk for acute asthmatic bronchitis when they are exposed to these causes.

Symptoms of Bronchitis

Not all children experience all symptoms of bronchitis, but the most common symptoms include:

  • back and muscle pain
  • coughing (can be dry or can produce yellow or greenish mucous)
  • fever, sometimes accompanied by chills
  • general feeling of being unwell
  • pressure, tightness or burning in the chest
  • runny nose
  • shortness of breath
  • sore throat
  • wheezing.

Most symptoms of bronchitis will only last for three to 14 days, though they can sometimes last for three to four weeks. Coughing can linger after other symptoms disappear completely.

Diagnosis of bronchitis should be left to a doctor. Symptoms can be similar to those of other conditions, so self-diagnosis is never recommended. To diagnose bronchitis in a child, doctors may use the following tests:

  • blood tests
  • chest X-rays
  • lung tests
  • sputum cultures.

Other tests may also be used, and the child’s medical history will be examined as well.

Bronchitis Treatment

When bronchitis is caused by a virus, little can be prescribed by a doctor that will be effective, as antibiotics are not effective against viruses. Over-the-counter medications that help relieve symptoms, like fever and sore throat, will be the most helpful in these instances.

If bronchitis is caused by bacteria, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics for the child. Antibiotic prescriptions should be taken at the appropriate time each day and should be taken as long as directed, even if symptoms disappear.

In some cases, a doctor might also prescribe a bronchodilator, which will serve to open up bronchial passages in the lungs.

Here are some other things that can help when a child has bronchitis:

  • Make sure the child gets plenty of liquids, including water and clear broths.
  • Do not allow the child to overexert himself. Plenty of bed rest is needed.
  • Use a vaporizer or humidifier in the child’s room.
  • While acetaminophen and other medications for pain and fever can be used, avoid cough syrups and cough drops that are not recommended by your doctor.

In addition, never give a child aspirin to treat bronchitis. Giving aspirin to children can cause Reye’s syndrome, a life-threatening condition that can cause brain and liver damage.

Bronchitis vs. Bronchiolitis

While bronchitis can affect adults and children of all ages, bronchiolitis generally affects very young children, most often those aged three months to six months. Bronchiolitis is most often caused by respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. The condition is most often mild and includes symptoms similar to those of bronchitis. However, bronchiolitis symptoms also include:

  • difficulty sleeping
  • fatigue or lethargy
  • irritability
  • nostril flaring
  • rapid heartbeat
  • shallow breathing.

In severe cases, the skin (especially around the lips and fingernails) may turn blue and dehydration and vomiting may occur.

Bronchiolitis occurs most often in children who:

  • are male
  • have not been breastfed
  • live in crowded conditions.

If symptoms occur, see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis and for treatment options. Doctors may also be able to provide information for parents that can help with preventing bronchiolitis.


Children’s Hospital Boston (2007). Bronchitis, Acute. Retrieved August 31, 2007, from the Children’s Hospital Boston Web site:

Healthy World Online (1996). Childhood Bronchitis. Retrieved August 31, 2007, from the Healthy World Online Web site:

National Library of Medicine (2007). Bronchitis. Retrieved August 31, 2007, from the NLM Web site:

Nemours Foundation (2004). Bronchitis. Retrieved August 31, 2007, from the Nemours Foundation Web site: