Bronchiolitis, what is it and why does it affect babies, especially premature babies? It’s dangerous? What are the symptoms to watch out for? And how to intervene?
It is an infection of the “bronchioles” , that is, of the small passages present in the lungs, and is generally caused by a viral infection. In practice, bronchiolitis is an acute viral infection that mainly affects the small airways of children under the age of two, especially if they are premature.
Causes of bronchiolitis
The infection is mainly caused by the respiratory syncytial virus (VRS) , which is one of the most frequent causes of respiratory tract disorders during the first years of life which occurs in the cold months in temperate climates and in the rainy season, when the temperatures become lower. However, bronchiolitis is secondary to a transmission that occurs first of all by direct contact with infected secretions and the contagion phase typically lasts from 6 to 10 days.
In any case, the main risk factors are:
- exposure to cigarette smoke
- age under 6 months
- particularly crowded environments
- no breastfeeding
- familiarity with asthma
- premature births (before 37 weeks of gestation)
Symptoms of bronchiolitis
In general, bronchiolitis begins with the typical symptoms of a flu : fever and rhinitis are the main signs. Subsequently, a more or less severe cough and respiratory difficulty occurs , characterized by an increase in respiratory rate and intercostal recesses (i.e. respiratory difficulty occurs visually at the level of the nostrils and ribs). Often everything resolves spontaneously, but in some cases hospitalization may be necessary , especially under six months of life.
In fact, in such young children, there may be a more severe hypoxemia (oxygen in the blood) and dehydration can be observed due to water loss due to respiratory effort. Furthermore, in premature infants or children under 6 weeks of age, the risk of apnea is even higher, so cardio-respiratory parameters must be kept under observation.
In any case it is good to go to the hospital if the child totally refuses food and to guarantee the baby adequate oxygenation of the blood (with the administration of humidified and heated oxygen) and adequate hydration (with glucosaline solutions administered intravenously ).
The cures of bronchiolitis
Sometimes it is sufficient to relieve the symptoms with a good washing of the nose , humidifying the environments, giving oxygen and with a little healthy rest . No antibiotics , which are not effective against viral infections! Medicines used primarily in hospital include medications for the treatment of asthma and possibly additionally cortisone drugs. Antivirals are an additional option in particularly severe children .
How to prevent bronchiolitis?
Most cases of bronchiolitis are not easily predicted, because the viruses that cause the disease are widespread in the environment. However, always remember to wash your hands , especially where there are children, and always try to avoid contact of younger children with other children or adults with airway infections ; choose breastfeeding and let them drink a lot; do frequent nasal washing with physiological or hypertonic solution and never smoke at home (in general near them!).