Heading into the winter months brings with it lots of childhood infections. One of the most common infections that we see in A&E in the under ones is bronchiolitis. This is a viral illness (usually caused by RSV- respiratory syncytial virus) spread through drops in the air. It clears up without medication. However some babies and children can work extremely hard to breath, requiring some support.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms are similar to the common cold- a mild fever, a runny nose, a dry cough.
If your baby or child is working really hard to breath you will notice;
- Increased breathing rate
- Sucking in of the ribs with breathing
- Flaring of the nostrils with breathing
- Bobbing of the head with breathing
If your baby or child is getting dehydrated because they are unable to feed well, you will notice;
- Dry nappies
- Drinking less
- Dry lips and mouth
- Sunken fontanelle (soft spot on the top of the head)
- Cool hands and feet
You need to take you baby or child to see a doctor (GP or Paediatrician).
About 1/3 of children in the UK get bronchiolitis before their first birthday, with it most commonly affecting those between 3-6 months of age.
What is the treatment?
There is no treatment for the viruses that cause bronchiolitis. Paracetamol and ibuprofen will help to control any fever. Giving smaller feeds more frequently can help if your child is working hard with their breathing and finding it hard to take full feeds. In most cases the illness improves after 3 days and usually clears up completely within 14 days.
How do I prevent my child from getting bronchiolitis?
It is a contagious illness so there are some simple things that you can do to try to stop the spread of the illness;
- If your child is infected they should stay away from other children until they are better.
- Washing and wiping down toys that have been dribbled on.
- Washing both your own hands and those of your child frequently.
- Keeping your baby and child away from people with colds.
- Preventing you baby/child from being exposed to tobacco smoke. There has been shown to be an association with this and chest infections.
There is no guaranteed way to protect your child from this- and indeed your child needs to pick up these infections in order to build a strong immune system. Children are expected to pick up between 6-8 infections a year.
Bronchiolitis settles on its own, but if you are worried at all you should speak to your doctor.
DR ANASTASIA ALCOCK
MRCPCH MBBS BSc(Hons) DTM&H DPID DRCOG