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Bronchiolitis is a common acute viral infection that infects the bronchioles, the smallest airways of the lungs, most commonly seen in infants around six months of age. It is one of the most common chest infections and is mostly found during the winter months. It occurs when a virus enters causing the tiny airways to become swollen. As a result of this mucus collects in the airways and makes it hard for air to flow freely in the lungs. It frequently starts out with symptoms similar to the common cold, however, often times it progresses to coughing and wheezing and typically last for one to two weeks but then severe cases can result in hospitalization.

The virus is often referred to as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), however other virus’s such as rhinovirus, parainfluenza “virus influenza A” and adenovirus, can cause bronchiolitis. Bronchiolitis is spread similarly like the common cold and is very contagious. It can be spread by an infected person that coughs or sneezes and then the droplets are breathed in by an uninfected person. The virus can stay alive on surfaces such as toys, doorknobs, sinks, etc for a long period of time. Exposure to RSV does not necessarily mean that a person will be infected with RSV six months of age but also in adults. However, it could result in a bad cold or not experience the symptoms of bronchiolitis at all.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of bronchiolitis may include:

  • Runny – stuffy nose
  • Low grade fever
  • Wheezing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Mild cough

Who it Affects

There are many risk factors as with the common cold that can affect anyone, however Bronchiolitis most often affects:

  • Any child two years of age, but especially children between the age of 3-6 months
  • During winter months
  • Children who are most at risk:
    • Children who were never breast fed
    • Children exposed to tobacco smoke
    • Children in crowded conditions such as day care
    • Children born prematurely
  • Adults can also be at risk:
    • Immunocompromised
    • Exposed to toxic fumes


Doctors often recommend children with bronchiolitis to drink lots of fluids and sleep with a cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier to ease their breathing. Since it is a viral infection and not a bacterial infection antibiotics do not help. However the use of over the counter pain and fever medication often relieve some of the symptoms.

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