What is bronchiolitis?
Bronchiolitis is a common lung infection, affecting babies and young children. It causes inflammation of the small airways in the lungs called the bronchioles, which restricts the amount of air able to enter the lungs, making it more difficult for the child to breathe.
For most babies bronchiolitis is no more serious than a cold but some may need hospital care and it is the most common reason for an infant being admitted to hospital in the UK. Babies at greater risk of developing severe bronchiolitis include premature babies and babies with certain heart or lung conditions.
What’s the difference between bronchitis and bronchiolitis
Bronchiolitis should not be confused with bronchitis.
Bronchitis is a condition that affects both adults and children. It occurs when an infection causes the bronchi (the larger airways in the lungs) to become irritated and swollen (inflamed), which causes more mucus production than usual. The body will try to get rid of this extra mucus through coughing.
Bronchiolitis is an inflammation of the bronchioles (the small airways in the lungs), which makes it harder to breathe.
When does bronchiolitis occur?
The infection is most common in young babies who are three to six months old.
Bronchiolitis usually occurs during the winter months, from October to March, when the viruses that can cause bronchiolitis are more common. It is also possible to develop bronchiolitis more than once during the same winter.
What causes bronchiolitis?
An airborne virus known as the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is responsible for about 80% of cases of bronchiolitis in babies and young children. Other viruses that can cause bronchiolitis include the Adenovirus and Rhinovirus.
How do viruses such as RSV spread?
Viruses are spread through tiny droplets of liquid from the coughs or sneezes of someone who is infected. The droplets can be breathed in directly from the air or picked up from a surface that they have landed on, such as a toy or table.
For example, your child can become infected if they touch a toy that has the virus on it and then touch their eyes, mouth or nose.