It is a viral infection involving the end part of the bronchi, the so-called terminal bronchioles, causing inflammation and congestion.

It affects children under 2 years of age with most cases occurring in the first year of life (in some cases it is referred to as infant bronchiolitis).


Causes of bronchiolitis

The contagion is due to a virus, as is the case with a common cold, with which it shares seasonality: the period of the year when bronchiolitis is most common is, in fact, winter, from November to March.

The respiratory syncytial virus (VRS) is the main cause of bronchiolitis but other viruses may also be involved, including influenza, parainfluenza, adenoviruses and metapneumoviruses.

These microorganisms in most older children and adults give nothing more than a trivial cold or flu-like symptoms; in very young children, however, they can trigger bronchiolitis in infants.

Symptoms of bronchiolitis

The symptoms of bronchiolitis are very similar to those of a cold – stuffy nose, mucus and sneezing – but bronchiolitis has a fast course and degenerates within a few hours.

Sometimes two or three are enough for breathing to become laboured, accelerated and noisy with peculiar whistling or hissing, accompanied by coughing.

Bronchiolitis: the diagnosis

All that is needed to diagnose bronchiolitis is a thorough paediatric examination, perhaps supplemented by measuring the oxygen saturation of the little finger.

Taking into account the child’s age, the seasonality of viruses and the detection of signs of respiratory fatigue, bronchiolitis can be diagnosed and appropriate therapy prescribed.

X-rays may be useful when the picture is particularly severe or there are no signs of improvement, or when there is a well-founded suspicion of respiratory complications, such as pneumonia, for which further treatment must be initiated.

Treatment for bronchiolitis

In most cases the disease resolves spontaneously within a few days thanks to a little extra attention from mum and dad.

This is the most effective treatment for bronchiolitis.

The recommendations are simple: keep the nose clear by means of appropriate washing and suction and ensure that the little one feeds and hydrates by mouth normally.

Hospitalisation is rare and is only required for the most severe cases.

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