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Bronchiolitis is a viral respiratory condition that affects the smallest air passages in the lungs, the bronchioles. The job of these small, branching bronchioles is to control airflow in your lungs. When they become infected or damaged, they swell or become clogged. This blocks the flow of oxygen. Although it is generally a childhood condition, adults can be affected as well.
There are two types of bronchiolitis.
Viral bronchiolitis is the most common and appears primarily in babies.
Bronchiolitis obliterans is a rare and dangerous condition seen in adults. In this condition, it is scarring, rather than swelling, that blocks the air passages and causes this condition.
Viral bronchiolitis is caused by viruses that enter and infect the respiratory tract. Viruses are microscopic organisms that can reproduce rapidly and challenge the immune system. The following are common types of viral infections that may bring on bronchiolitis.
Respiratory syncytial virus is the most common cause of bronchiolitis. RSV usually strikes babies less than 1 year of age. This contagious and dangerous viral infection produces inflammation, mucous, and swelling in the airways.
These viruses target mucous membranes and cause approximately 10 percent of all respiratory tract infections in children.
These viruses produce inflammation in the lungs, nose, and throat. Influenza affects both adults and children, but is especially dangerous for babies whose immune systems are not strong.
This rare condition sometimes occurs for no known reason. Severe cases can lead to death if left untreated. A few causes have been identified and include:
Viral bronchiolitis affects children younger than 2 years, but generally manifests in infants 3 to 6 months of age. A few risk factors for viral bronchiolitis in babies and young children are:
Common risk factors for bronchiolitis obliterans in adults are:
Both viral bronchiolitis and bronchiolitis obliterans present similar symptoms. These include:
Symptoms for bronchiolitis obliterans can occur two weeks to a little over a month after exposure to chemicals. A lung infection can take several months to several years to produce symptoms.
There are several ways to diagnose both types of bronchiolitis. Imaging testing, including chest X-rays, is typically used to diagnose both adults and children. A common tool used in adults is spirometry, which measures how much, and how quickly, air is taken in with each breath. Blood gas tests for both bronchiolitis conditions measure how much oxygen and carbon dioxide are in the blood.
Samples of mucous or nasal discharge can be used to diagnose what type of virus is causing the infection. This testing method is commonly used with babies and small children.
Viral bronchiolitis requires different treatments than bronchiolitis obliterans.
Many cases of viral bronchiolitis are so mild that they clear up on their own without treatment. However, as this condition most often affects infants, hospitalization may be required for more severe cases. A hospital can provide any oxygen and intravenous fluid treatments that may be needed. Antibiotic medications are useless against viruses but some medications can be used to help open your baby’s airways.
Although there is no cure for the scarring in bronchiolitis obliterans, corticosteroids can help rid the lungs of mucous, reduce inflammation, and open up the airways. Oxygen treatments and medications to boost the immune system may be necessary. Breathing exercises and stress reduction can help ease breathing difficulties. In the most severe cases of lung damage, a lung transplant may be the best recourse.
Both conditions require extra rest and an increase in fluid intake. Keeping the air in the home clear of smoke and chemicals is very important. A moist-air humidifier may also help.
Children and babies with viral bronchiolitis usually improve in three days to a week with prompt, proper treatment. In obliterans, the prognosis varies depending on when the condition was found and how far it has progressed.
Written by: Brindles Lee Macon and Matthew Solan
Published on: Jul 25, 2012on: Mar 08, 2017
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