It’s about that time of year where viral infections become more common. It’s not the cold that causes the infections; rather the cold causes people to stay inside more often. Inside we are closer together and thus more likely to transmit infection.

One infection which is fairly common among younger children is bronchiolitis. It sounds like bronchitis, but bronchitis affects the bronchi or larger airways in the lungs. Bronchiolitis occurs in smaller airways.

Bronchiolitis is usually caused by a virus called respiratory syncytial virus or RSV for short. Symptoms are wheezing, coughing and fever. Children under 2 years of age are most likely to become symptomatic. As the airways are small in young children any swelling or inflammation can cause turbulent airflow leading to wheezing and rapid breathing. Children under 2 and especially babies breath more through their noses than mouths. With bronchiolitis the nose is often obstructed with mucous, making breathing more difficult.

What works best for treatment is suctioning of the nose, which allows for better flow of air into the lungs. Exposure to cold air (by having your fully clothed and blanketed child breath the cold outdoor air) and steam (leave the hot water running in the shower and close the door) have been reported to help, but there is no really good evidence that this works.

What doesn’t work are antibiotics, since this is a viral infection and antibiotics don’t work against viruses. Albuterol which works well for asthma doesn’t really do the trick here. Sometimes a similar inhaled medication called Racemic Epi is given, which may help some

Bronchiolitis goes away after a few days. If your child is working really hard to breath, then you should go to the ER.