Original Post: 13 Nov 2008

What is bronchiolitis?

This is a viral illness of the respiratory tract that usually afflicts children of less than 2 years of age. It is characterized by an increased effort of breathing and wheezing following an uppers respiratory tract infection.

What are the symptoms and signs of Bronchiolitis?

Affected children would have a prodromal illness with runny nose and cough for a few days. The illness will be much like a common cold at this stage. Few children may have fever and malaise at this stage. The illness then progresses to involve the lower respiratory tract. This stage is characterized by increasing severity of cough, increased work of breathing and respiratory distress and wheezing.

Is bronchiolitis a severe illness?

In its classical form it may be a very severe illness requiring hospitalization and varying degrees of respiratory support. In the very young, severe illness may result in fatalities. The illness may be particularly severe in those children with congenital heart disease or those with prematurity related lung disease.

What causes Bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis is a viral infection. The most commonly identified virus is RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus). In western countries where the illness has been studied, there are reports of over 90% of all cases being caused by RSV. Other viruses identified are Influenza, para-influenza and adenoviruses.

Is bronchiolitis seasonal?

In countries with the four seasons, bronchiolitis is predominantly seen in winter. In countries like Maldives an increased number of cases maybe expected during the rainy season.

What is the treatment of Bronchiolitis?

Much work has gone into finding the best treatment for Bronchiolitis at research institutes around the world. In essence what has been agreed upon among the scientific community is that the illness has no specific treatment that acts as a cure. As is the case with most viral infections of the respiratory tract; Bronchiolitis is also best managed with supportive therapy.  Antibiotics have no role in the management and should not be used routinely. No specific antiviral agent has been identified as particularly useful.

Supportive therapy includes use of humidified Oxygen for inhalation, maintaining fluid balance (including use of intravenous fluids where indicated) and monitoring for signs of respiratory insufficiency.

Bronchodilator therapy is used at many centers, initially as a trial and sometimes in the very severely ill children. The most commonly used bronchodilator is salbutamol (ventolin) as nebulisation or inhalers.

Steroids have no routine role and its use in Bronchiolitis is under review at many centers.