What's Going Around: Bronchiolitis

January 25, 2008 - Posted at 4:10 p.m. CDT

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) -- These chilly temperatures may find your family under the weather!

This winter many parents will be in the doctor's office with kids suffering from bronchiolitis, a respiratory tract infection that often affects infants and children under the age of two.  Although it's often just a mild illness, some infants can be at risk for a more sever disease than can require hospitalization.

Falling temperatures have found more children like 19-month-old Kaitlin at the doctor's office.

With symptoms similar to asthma, bronchiolitis is a lung infection cause by a virus...the average age of a child contracting it is six months old.  Wheezing, breathing rapidly, tight breath, coughing and a fever are some of the signs.  While infants with respiratory syncytial virus develop bronchiolitis, children over the age of two and adults just develop cold symptoms.

"It's a viral infection so we can't really cure it, so we try to treat the symptoms best we can. Sometimes we'll do four or five days of an oral steroid for the wheezing or coughing. Maybe an inhaler or nebulizer in a similar way we would treat asthma, and try to push fluids so we don't get dehydrated," said Dr. Lowery Beck.

Day care attendance and exposure to cigarette smoke also can increase the likelihood that an infant will develop bronchiolitis. The infection is hard to prevent spreading because it is so prevalent in most communities.  Dr. Beck says his office has been full of patients all winter.

"Good hand washing as always is the best way to try to prevent it as always, having them wash their hands with soap and water several times, very frequently. And again, if you can keep your young children out of daycare and have a home baby sitter, that would be great," said Dr. Beck.

Cases of bronchiolitis typically last about 12 days, but kids with severe cases can cough for weeks.  Seek immediate medical help if your child is having difficulty breathing or the coughing and wheezing get worse or if his or her lips or fingernails turn blue.