Bronchiolitis is a condition of the bronchioles, the small airways in the lungs. It is an inflammation of these bronchioles generally caused by viral infections such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
Bronchiolitis can be serious in infants, though in children and adults it is generally a milder condition. When it is severe in children and adults, however, it can lead to hospitalization. In fact, each year in the U.S. many hospitalizations occur due to bronchiolitis.
Bronchiolitis is generally more dangerous in infants because their bronchioles are already so narrow. The tightening caused by bronchiolitis can close off the airways altogether and be potentially fatal.
Generally, although this condition can be so serious, it passes within a week to 10 days. Symptoms are present for even fewer days. So recovery is rapid and generally leaves no lingering effects.
While RSV is a major contributor to most cases of bronchiolitis, exposure of a child to a parent’s smoking can also cause it. The cold and flu season, or the cold weather months, are when most cases of bronchiolitis occur. Any suspected cases, especially in infants, should be examined by a physician immediately.