Bronchiolitis is the leading cause of hospitalisation in Spain for children under the age of two. It is also the reason behind 90% of paediatric admissions.
Therefore, it is important to understand this infectious respiratory pathology that mainly affects infants, premature babies under 24 months of age, people with Down’s Syndrome, and those suffering from congenital heart or chronic lung diseases.
What is bronchiolitis?
Bronchiolitis is an infectious disease that causes inflammation of the bronchioles (end part of the bronchus) and is accompanied by congestion and increased mucus.
Why is it more prevalent among infants and young children?
The answer is simply because these groups have susceptible immunological systems. The fact that most cases of bronchiolitis have a viral component explains why the disease affects most severely those segments of the population with weaker defences.
What are the symptoms?
The main warning signs usually appear during its early stages:
- Nasal congestion
- Mucus secretion
Typically, around the seventh day, the patient’s condition will start to worsen, with increased breathing difficulties, lethargic behaviour, difficulty eating, tachypnoea (above normal breathing rate) and cyanosis (purplish colouring of the lips and fingers).
How can it be prevented?
It is important to understand that this disease is transmitted through the air by coughing or talking, so the best thing to do is to wear a mask and wash one’s hands repeatedly during the day.
- Keep children away from crowded environments.
- Do not expose them to tobacco smoke.
- Avoid contact with people suffering from a cold or fever, especially in the case of premature babies.
- Avoid sharing kitchen utensils such as cutlery or glasses, particularly with those who may be sick.
- Clean and disinfect the home regularly, especially objects within children’s reach. Pay special attention to toys and doorknobs.
- Do not sneeze or cough without covering yourself with a tissue. It is important to wash your hands with disinfectant or alcohol immediately afterwards.
When is immediate medical attention necessary?
Seek medical attention in cases of respiratory insufficiency. If the child cannot breathe properly it can be a serious issue and they should be taken to a hospital immediately. Qualified personnel may then provide them with oxygen, hydration, and monitor their blood oxygen saturation levels.
How can I help my child if they suffer from bronchiolitis?
The most widely given advice is to not take them out of the house until they are fully recovered and the risk of infecting others has disappeared.
It is important to keep an eye on them at all times, as the infection can get worse very quickly and one should be ready to leave quickly for the hospital. There is no need to be frightened, just alert for any signs of worsening.
Although there are currently no vaccines for bronchiolitis caused by RSV and rhinovirus, it is recommended that infants older than six months get the influenza vaccine every year.