Bronchiolitis in Infants: What Can You Do?

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Miss E has been suffering from bronchiolitis for a while now. Miss A also had it when she was about 7 weeks old. Unfortunately it’s very common with young infants (especially under 6 months) in the colder months thanks to their immature immune system and smaller air passages so if you’re a new parent or about to be one, I advise you to learn about it and be prepared!

What is bronchiolitis?

This is a viral infection most commonly caused by the respiratory synctial virus (RSV). It causes inflammation (-itis) and mucus buildup in the bronchioles, the smallest air passages in the lungs.

What are the symptoms?

It starts off as a cold with symptoms like a runny nose and a cough. Bub may also have a fever, wheezy breathing, and trouble feeding (since breastfeeding requires them to breathe through their nose which is difficult when congested).

It is important to note that symptoms will get worse before they get better, with the peak happening around day 2 or 3. It usually takes up to 2 weeks to recover from bronchiolitis, though a cough may persist for longer.

What can you do to help bub cope?

At the peak of Miss E’s illness, we were told by the doctor to give regular Panadol (for fevers and to soothe any pains from coughing or a sore throat) every 6 hours for a few days (not more than 5 days), to feed more often (2-3 hourly), and flush her nose with saline before each feed.

To flush their nose, you can use saline drops bought from the pharmacy (e.g FESS Little Noses). We got little 1mL syringes and saline water packs from the hospital to squirt up her nose which I think is far more effective when they’re super congested.

Panadol and saline

We also use a humidifier/steam vapouriser for the bedroom (again, easily purchasable from a pharmacy and a worthwhile investment because kids will get sick a lot!). If you don’t have one you can run the hot water in the shower and stand in the bathroom with bub (if you have a dryer in your bathroom turn it on at the same time for even more effectiveness).

If your infant has trouble taking the medication via syringe (e.g. keeps gagging), you can put your finger in their mouth for them to suck then stick the syringe into the corner of their mouth and slowly push down the plunger as they suck. If they take a dummy, there are dummies you can get which allow you to put medicine into it for them to suck out. Some people also swear by a change of brands/flavours (e.g if Panadol really doesn’t work, try Nurofen). Miss E absolutely hated Panadol and after the first few doses would gag and throw up her feeds. By that stage she had gotten over her fever though so we decided to just go without. I think if they don’t have a fever, keeping down feeds is a lot more important than taking it.

When should you go to see a doctor/the hospital?

No one likes to queue up at the Emergency department or at the doctor’s clinic only to later be told to just go home and rest, but rest assured you can never be too careful with young babies. No one at the Children’s Hospital is ever going to tell you off for over-panicking and rocking up to Emergency for any reason (can’t say the same for the adult’s). At this point I would like to say God bless Australia and its universal healthcare system.

Some of the reasons you might present to medical staff is if bub is very young (under 3 months), running a high fever, has missed a few feeds, is looking a bit blue, has suddenly become super lethargic, or is clearly having difficulty breathing (grunting, nostrils flaring, ribs sinking in upon inhalation etc), or you have any concerns at all.

What can medical staff do to help?

Antibiotics can’t be given for bronchiolitis as it is a viral infection, but if baby is having trouble getting air into their lungs, hospital staff can administer oxygen or IV fluids if dehydrated. Note babies will dehydrate quicker than adults so if they have missed or thrown up a few feeds in a row, don’t wait around and head straight to Emergency.

Unfortunately bronchiolitis is one of those things you just have to ride out. So if bub is still breathing fine, still getting in decent feeds, and vital signs (pulse, temperature etc) are fine despite how miserable they might appear, then you are likely to be sent home.

What can you do to prevent it?

Taking precaution is a lot easier if you only have one kid. The obvious things to do are wash your hands before handling bub and keep bub away from other sick kids and people. However, once they start going to childcare or you have more than one kid, I think it’s pretty tough keeping the younger one in a bubble.

I think as parents you have to accept getting sick is just part of life. I think I’ve read somewhere that the average infant may have like 6-8 colds in their first year alone?

Some other factors that might make a baby more susceptible to bronchiolitis include being premature, not being breastfed, an underlying heart/lung condition, living in a smoking household etc.

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I’m not a doctor or a nurse. I’m just a mum who has been through this with both kids and have researched the illness and am presenting what I know. Obviously seek your own doctor for proper medical advice!

If you are currently in the midst of riding this illness out like Miss E and I, get as much support as you can from family and friends, grit your teeth, raise your coffee mug up in the air and chant with me, “This too shall pass!”