According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, bronchitis mostly affects people older than 45 years old. This isn't surprising, as most people at this age have either smoked cigarettes or become highly exposed to environments with bronchitis-causing agents.1
However, this doesn't mean that people from other age groups are safe. Unfortunately, children can also get bronchitis, usually in association with a viral respiratory infection.2 Bronchitis in kids may lead to distress, not only because of the pain caused by symptoms, but also due to the potential lifestyle impacts. If you're a parent or a guardian of a young child, it definitely pays to be one step ahead of this debilitating disease.
What Causes Bronchitis Among Children?
If a child has bronchitis, this means that the bronchi, or the airways found in the lungs, have become irritated and inflamed because of certain agents.3 Large amounts of mucus or phlegm then develop in these airways and the ability to breathe in air and oxygen into the lungs decreases.4
There are two types of bronchitis: acute and chronic, with the former being more common in children, especially those under 5 years old. This commonly happens during the winter, and lasts for up to three weeks.5 Acute bronchitis in healthy children is rarely the only infection they have.6 Rather, it arises after having a cold or flu-like sickness,7 even though some types of viruses such as those below can also cause this disease:8,9
✓ Respiratory syncytial
✓ Human bocavirus
Certain bacteria strains can also trigger bronchitis in children, such as Mycoplasma pneumoniae, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenza, Moraxella catarrhalis and Bordetella pertussis.10 However, bacteria-caused bronchitis does not happen that often.11 Like adults, children can also be affected with bronchitis if they are constantly exposed to irritants such as cigarette smoke, fumes, dust and polluted air,12 or if they have known allergies.13
If a child has a cough with mucus on most days for at least three months, this could indicate that he or she has chronic bronchitis, a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).14,15 This is a condition wherein patients already experience varying degrees of breathing difficulties, as well as better or worsened symptoms at particular points in the year.16 Just like with acute bronchitis, long exposure to and breathing in polluted air, smoke, dust or fumes can trigger chronic bronchitis.17
How to Check If a Child Has Bronchitis
Bronchitis symptoms in children are actually similar to those experienced by adults:18 If you notice any of these symptoms on a child, make sure to consult a physician immediately:
✓ Sore throat
✓ Runny nose
✓ Chills and aches
✓ Slight fever reaching up to 100 to 101 degrees Fahrenheit
✓ Cough that starts out dry, but ends up producing green or yellow mucus
✓ Chest pain
✓ Shortness of breath
Infants May Experience Another Disease Altogether
If your infant has a runny nose, cough, slightly high temperature fever, or all of the above, these may indicate bronchiolitis.19 Babies are not normally affected with bronchitis, but this aforementioned disease may occur instead.20
Bronchiolitis occurs when the bronchioles, or the small air passages in the lungs, get filled with mucus and become swollen. A viral infection is to blame for this disease, especially if it involves either a respiratory syncytial virus,21 adenovirus, influenza or parainfluenza virus. There are also factors that can affect an infant's risk for this disease, such as:22
- Exposure to cigarette smoke
- Living in crowded conditions
- Not being breastfed
- Being born before 37 weeks of pregnancy
- Being younger than 6 months old
This sickness usually targets infants younger than 2 years old, especially when they are around 3 to 6 months old, and occurs more often during fall and winter. Infants acquire the disease when they come into direct contact with throat and/or nose fluids of an infected child or adult, usually via the following methods:23
- Breathing in tiny droplets of air from an infected person nearby who sneezes or coughs
- Touching infected toys or other objects that have already been infected
Infants with bronchiolitis manifest these symptoms as well:24
✓ Rasping and persistent dry cough
✓ Brief pauses in breathing
✓ Feeding less and vomiting after feeding
✓ Having fewer wet diapers
To diagnose bronchiolitis, a physician would observe a child first and use a stethoscope to listen to the lungs. The physician may also check for signs of dehydration such as sunken eyes, dry mouth and skin, sluggishness and little to no urination, especially if the child has been vomiting or refusing to eat or drink.25
However, certain tests might be ordered especially if the child is at risk for severe bronchiolitis, experiencing worsened symptoms or if another problem is suspected. These are:26
- Chest X-rays: An X-ray may be recommended by the physician to check for pneumonia.
- Viral testing: This is done by gently inserting a swab into the child's nose to collect mucus sample. This may determine the virus that is causing bronchiolitis in a child.
- Blood tests: This test has two purposes: to see if the oxygen levels in the child's bloodstream have decreased, and to determine the amount of white blood cells in the system. An increase in white blood cells means that the body is currently fighting an infection.
Fortunately, most cases of bronchiolitis resolve on their own without needing treatment, in around two to three weeks. There are also techniques that you can follow at home to alleviate this sickness:27,28
- Having the child sit upright: This enables the child to breathe easier and make feeding less of a hassle. Just make sure that when taking a nap, the child's head is supported with a soft item like a rolled-up blanket to prevent it from falling forward.
- Drinking plenty of fluids: This is a no-brainer since this prevents dehydration. Make sure they drink water from time-to-time. If they're either breastfed or bottle fed, try giving them smaller feeds more frequently.
- Making the air moist: If you have an air humidifier at home, use it to moisten the air, help the child alleviate his or her cough and loosen the sticky mucus in the lungs.
- Avoiding exposure to smoke: Do not expose the child to smoke, whether at home, in the car or other environments that the child is frequently exposed to. If you or other relatives are smokers, refrain from smoking so the child can heal properly and help prevent future cases of this illness.
It's never too early or too late to know about debilitating illnesses that can affect a child while they're young. Parents or guardians definitely have the ability, in some way or another, to prevent bronchitis from affecting children so they can enjoy their lives to the fullest.