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Bronchiolitis is a disease where the smallest airways of the lungs become swollen and filled with mucus making it difficult to breathe.

Bronchiolitis is fairly common, affecting about a third of babies in their first year. Babies usually become affected during the winter months.

The most common cause of bronchiolitis is a virus called repiratory syncytial virus or RSV for short. This virus can also be responsible for causing colds, ear infections, pneumonia and croup. The virus is contagious and can spread quickly so make sure you wash your hands regularly and keep your child away from nurseries or playgroups if it has bronchiolitis.

The early symptoms of bronchiolitis are similar to those of a cold - runny or blocked nose, dry cough, slight fever and loss of appetite.

A few days later the symptoms become worse and you may notice your baby having trouble breathing. You may also notice your baby's heart beat is particularly fast and that its not feeding properly.

Usually bronchiolitis is not particularly serious and babies recover well at home. However, sometimes the disease can become severe and babies may need hospital treatment.

You should see a doctor immediately if your baby shows signs of dehydration including:
Bullet A dry nappy for over six hours
Bullet Dry mouth and lips
Bullet Drinking less than half of its usual amount of milk in 24 hours

Also see a doctor if your baby's temperature rises above 38 degrees Celcius, if it's particularly sleepy or struggling to breathe. You can see that your baby is having trouble breathing if you can see/hear:
Bullet Wheezing
Bullet Flared nostrils
Bullet Grunting
Bullet Stomach muscles tensing when breathing
Bullet Blue lips and fingernails
Bullet Sucking in skin around ribs
Bullet Breaks in breathing for a few seconds at a time
Bullet Breathing faster than 60 breaths per minute

Premature babies, babies under three months old and babies with health problems or weakened immune systems are more likely to develop severe bronchiolitis. In hospital they may have to be fed through a tube and given oxygen.

Having said that, the majority of babies recover from bronchiolitis without needing treatment but you may want to offer liquid paracetamol to babies over three months old to ease the symptoms. Cough and cold medicines should not be given to children under six years old.

September 2012
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