When Bronchiolitis is a viral infectious disease. Usually the disease heals on its own after a mild course.
What is bronchiolitis?
Bronchiolitis is inflammation of the bronchioles (small branches of the bronchi in the lower airways). Bronchiolitis occurs primarily in infants and toddlers under 2 years of age, as their airways are still comparatively vulnerable. The disease manifests itself more frequently during the winter and spring months.
Possible symptoms of bronchiolitis include coughing and difficulty breathing; Such a breathing disorder can manifest itself, for example, in the form of flattened and / or accelerated breathing or an erection of the nostrils during inhalation. Fever and an accelerated heartbeat can also be associated with bronchiolitis.
In addition to other symptoms such as tiredness and irritability, vomiting also occurs in some cases. A distinction can be made, among other things, between acute and persistent (persistent) bronchiolitis. The disease occurs much more frequently in its acute form.
Acute bronchiolitis is usually caused by a viral infection with the so-called RS viruses (respiratory syncytial viruses). Other possible pathogens (which are also often responsible for persistent bronchiolitis) include influenza (flu) viruses or so-called adenoviruses (DNA viruses).
The virus responsible for bronchiolitis is transmitted as part of a droplet infection; that is, by absorbing the virus in the air we breathe. The ingested viruses penetrate the respiratory tract through the nasal mucous membrane.
Bronchiolitis can also be transmitted via various objects (such as toys or cutlery) that are contaminated with the corresponding viruses. This leads to a so-called self-infection, as the viruses first get on the hands of the person affected and from there into the respiratory tract.
Symptoms, ailments & signs
In most cases, bronchiolitis has a positive course of the disease without complications. Treatment is not always necessary because bronchiolitis often heals on its own. Those affected suffer from various respiratory problems. This leads to a strong cough, with the patient also suffering from shortness of breath and a sore throat.
If the shortness of breath persists, the person affected may lose consciousness and possibly injure themselves if they fall. The internal organs or the brain are also damaged if there is a prolonged undersupply of oxygen. Furthermore, bronchiolitis can lead to shortness of breath or abnormal breathing noises.
Even at night, those affected suffer from breathing difficulties and thus from sleep problems or from irritability. The bronchiolitis significantly reduces the patient’s quality of life. The infection can also lead to a fever and general tiredness and fatigue.
The disease can also lead to palpitations. As a rule, bronchiolitis does not reduce the life expectancy of those affected if it heals completely. If the disease is not treated or if it takes a serious course, the respiratory tract can also be permanently damaged.
Diagnosis & course
Various medical measures are used to diagnose bronchiolitis. Usually, different basic techniques are used first: For example, the upper body of a person affected is patted by the doctor. This triggers various vibrations in the tissue that can give the doctor initial diagnostic clues.
Another common basic technique for diagnosing bronchiolitis is listening to noises in the upper body; this can be done either directly by placing the ear on it or with the aid of a stethoscope. In some cases, chest x-rays may also be needed to detect bronchiolitis.
The incubation period (time between infection and outbreak) of bronchiolitis is around two to eight days. After an infection, the viruses usually spread quickly to the bronchial mucosa. After a comparatively mild course, bronchiolitis often heals on its own within a period of up to 7 days. In severe cases, bronchiolitis can lead to an insufficient supply of oxygen to the blood.
In most cases, bronchiolitis heals within a week. However, if complications arise, there may be a lack of oxygen in the blood. The skin then appears – especially around the lips – ashen or blue, which is also known as cyanosis. In addition, the patients then suffer from fatigue and increasing shortness of breath, which can even lead to lung failure.
If the breathing difficulties worsen, hospital treatment is required. Children with immunodeficiency, congenital lung or heart disease, may need hospital treatment earlier because they are very susceptible to severe bronchiolitis. In rare cases, in addition to bronchiolitis, bacterial pneumonia occurs, which must then be treated separately.
If bronchiolitis repeats itself several times, it can also develop into asthma. It should also be noted that bronchitis medication has no effect on bronchiolitis, but that physiotherapeutic respiratory therapy is required here, which should, however, be avoided in the early stages, as otherwise the airways could be blocked even more.
When should you go to the doctor?
In most cases, bronchiolitis will heal itself. For this reason, a doctor should be consulted if the symptoms of bronchiolitis do not go away on their own and the quality of life of the person affected significantly suffers. In children, too, a doctor should definitely be consulted in order to avoid further complications or consequential damage. The symptoms of bronchiolitis include the common symptoms of flu or a cold.
If these symptoms persist over a long period of time, a doctor must be consulted. A strong cough or severe breathing difficulties, in particular, may indicate bronchiolitis and should be investigated. Pathological or unusual breathing noises are also among the symptoms of this disease and give rise to a medical examination.
The examination and treatment of bronchiolitis can be done by a general practitioner or an ENT doctor. As a rule, the disease progresses positively. If the symptoms persist after about a week, a doctor should be consulted.
Treatment & Therapy
At present, the viruses that cause bronchiolitis cannot be effectively combated. Therefore, possible treatment steps are to relieve symptoms associated with the disease.
The independent healing of bronchiolitis can, for example, be supported by general measures such as bed rest and an adequate intake of fluids. If people who are affected by bronchiolitis have a high fever, fever-lowering drugs are occasionally administered in consultation with the attending physician.
Depending on the dominant symptoms of bronchiolitis, it can also have a soothing effect to ensure sufficient humidity in the sickroom; The humidity can be increased, for example, by using so-called liquid nebulisers or by setting up containers filled with warm liquid.
If bronchiolitis takes a very severe course (such as is characterized, among other things, by very severe breathing difficulties or high fever), a temporary hospital stay may be necessary in individual cases.
Outlook & forecast
In the vast majority of cases, the prognosis for bronchiolitis is very good. If the respiratory disease is treated early, symptoms will subside after a few days. A hospital stay or a visit to the doctor is not necessary if the outcome is positive. Medical supervision is only required for elderly or immunocompromised people, as there is a risk of complications or long-term effects. In addition, bronchiolitis can be delayed and under certain circumstances develop into a chronic disease.
Above all, risk patients, such as people with a lung disease or other chronic complaints, are at risk. With acute bronchiolitis, the prognosis is less positive. Pneumonia or other secondary bacterial infection can occur.
This can lead to the development of an overly sensitive bronchial system, which can ultimately result in spastic bronchitis. If there is no or inadequate treatment, parts of the lungs can be completely closed.
Generally speaking, bronchiolitis usually goes well. If the patient is otherwise healthy and physically fit, the disease disappears after a few days to a week. Long-term consequences are not to be expected if the outcome is positive.
Bronchiolitis can be prevented above all by avoiding sources of infection. For example, it is helpful to avoid very close physical contact with people suffering from bronchiolitis. After contact with objects belonging to people with bronchiolitis, cleaning their hands can prevent the virus from being transmitted to the mucous membranes.
In most cases, there is no follow-up after a healed bronchiolitis. The disease will pass in five to seven days. No complaints remain. However, patients do not develop immunity. A new illness is therefore always possible. Large crowds in particular pose a risk of infection.
Close and intimate contact with people should be avoided. Especially in times when infectious diseases are rampant, it is important that people wash their hands several times a day. Young and old people are considered to be comparatively at risk of infection. Preventive measures lead to individual responsibility.
If the illness recurs, patients should definitely stay in bed. Adequate hydration and antipyretic agents ensure a quick recovery. Additional humidification is advisable. The doctor listens to the breathing sounds on the upper body.
Rapid treatment initiation is conducive to recovery. Bronchiolitis that recurs several times can develop into a chronic form. Those affected often suffer from asthma. As shown, medical interventions are mainly acute. Preventive measures fall to the person concerned. Everyday life for the sick usually consists of bed rest. Scheduled follow-up examinations, however, are not necessary.
You can do that yourself
If you have bronchiolitis, you should definitely see a doctor if the typical symptoms (shortness of breath, shortness of breath, swelling in the throat) do not subside after a few days. A visit to the doctor is particularly urgent if it is accompanied by fatigue or sleep disorders. Fatigue, concentration problems and headaches are clear warning signs of a severe course – medical advice is required in any case.
If cardiac arrhythmias or circulatory problems occur, it is advisable to go to the emergency room. With infants and young children, if bronchiolitis is suspected, the pediatrician should be consulted immediately. This is especially true if swallowing problems are observed.
If the person concerned no longer takes in liquid or food, a doctor should also be consulted. Since those affected by bronchiolitis are mostly toddlers up to the age of two, the first abnormalities should lead to the pediatrician or to the hospital.
Adults should also have the symptoms clarified as soon as they lead to health restrictions or even physical and psychological deficits. In addition to the family doctor, other contacts are also the ENT doctor or a specialist in bronchial lung diseases.