Bronchitis In Children: Symptoms, Causes And Treatment

Written by Dr Bisny T. Joseph • 

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It may begin as a common cold and last for a week or two. But sometimes it could end up inflaming the bronchial tubes and lead to bronchitis, which lasts longer.

Bronchitis is a common infection in children and babies, and can be cured at home with some care, although hospitalization may be needed in some cases. So, is bronchitis a serious condition that you should be worried about?

MomJunction tells you about bronchitis, what causes it, and the treatment options for bronchitis in children.

What Is Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is an infection of the lungs that causes the inflammation of the bronchial tubes’ lining. The bronchial tubes allow passage of air from and to the lungs. Bronchitis can be acute or chronic, with acute bronchitis lasting for two to three weeks, and chronic bronchitis lasting for at least four weeks and more.

Bronchitis vs. bronchiolitis:

Bronchitis is often confused with another condition called bronchiolitis (1). Bronchitis affects the bronchial tubes, while bronchiolitis is a specific condition that affects the smaller airways that branch off the bronchial tubes.

  • While bronchitis results in a persistent cough and the formation of mucus that blocks the bigger airways passing to and from the smaller airways and alveoli of the lungs, causes inflammation of the narrow airways that make breathing difficult.
  • Bronchiolitis is usually caused by viruses of which the respiratory syncytial virus is one of the more serious ones. However, a number of viruses can cause it, for instance adenovirus and rhinovirus (2).
  • Bronchitis is caused by a variety of respiratory infections and commonly occurs after the child has had a bout of flu or the common cold.

Next, we look at what causes bronchitis.

[ Read: Viral Infection In Children ]

Causes Of Bronchitis In Children?

Often, bronchitis develops when the common cold or flu virus spreads to the bronchial tubes. In children, acute bronchitis is usually the result of a viral infection such as the common cold or the flu. Sometimes, bronchitis develops due to bacterial infections and allergens such as smoke, pollen, and dust.

Since the flu and common cold are contagious, children can also get the infection from someone who is already sick. Other factors that increase the risk of bronchitis in children are (3):

  • A weakened immune system
  • Living with or around people who smoke cigarettes
  • Air pollutants such as vehicular smoke, chemical smoke, and poisonous gases from factories
  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Chronic sinusitis
  • Adenoids and enlarged tonsils

Since bronchitis follows the flu or a bout of common cold, the condition is often misdiagnosed. To avoid that, you should watch out for the symptoms, which are discussed next.

[ Read: Asthma In Children ]

Signs And Symptoms Of Bronchitis In Children

A child with bronchitis may experience the following symptoms.

  • A dry or wet (mucus-filled) cough, which may bring up yellow, green, or white phlegm
  • Chest congestion, chest pain in some cases
  • Chills
  • Gagging or vomiting
  • A runny nose, usually before a cough
  • Wheezing
  • A sore throat
  • Mild fever

In some cases, the child may experience shortness of breath too. Take your child to a doctor if:

  • The symptoms last for more than three weeks
  • The child is not sleeping well
  • Mucus may be bloodstained
  • The body temperature is over 100°F (39 degrees Celsius)
  • There is discolored mucus
  • The child has shortness of breath

Proper diagnosis of bronchitis is critical to provide the right treatment for the child.

[ Read: Wheezing In Children ]

Diagnosing Bronchitis In Children

The diagnosis usually involves a thorough physical examination and questions on the symptoms. The doctor would want to know how long the child has had the symptoms and the color of the mucus. The doctor would also check the child’s breathing and for any signs of wheezing or disturbance. In some instances, the doctor might recommend a few diagnostic tests mentioned here:

  • Chest X-ray to check for signs of pneumonia
  • Lung function test to check for asthma or other causes of compromised lung function
  • Test to check oxygen levels in the blood, along with other blood tests
  • Diagnostic tests on the mucus, trying to identify the causitive organism.
  • Sometimes the clinical picture might warrant tests for signs of whooping cough, also known as pertussis

Based on the diagnosis, the doctor will prescribe medication and treatment for acute or chronic bronchitis.

Bronchitis Treatment For Children

Usually, acute bronchitis goes away on its own within two or three weeks. In case the bronchitis is due to a bacterial infection, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics. If the child has asthma or allergies, the doctor may also recommend the use of an inhaler. Usually, treatment for bronchitis in children includes:

  • Plenty of rest
  • Intake of liquids
  • Ibuprofen for any discomfort or fever. Acetaminophen may also be prescribed if needed
  • Cough syrup, if the child is over four years old
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation therapy may be needed if the child has chronic bronchitis

However, severe bronchitis may cause complications such as:

  • Blue skin or lips, referred to as cyanosis, occurs due to lack of enough oxygen in the blood. Low levels of oxygen may lead to respiratory failure, if not taken care of immediately.
  • Dehydration
  • Apnea, which is a pause in breathing that commonly occurs in premature infants.

In such cases, the child would need hospitalization and constant medical care until the symptoms ease. Besides the treatment options prescribed by the doctor, following a home care plan can also help cure bronchitis faster.

[ Read: Ibuprofen For Kids ]

Home Care Tips For Bronchitis

Medication and any other treatment options, such as therapy, will be effective when you follow these home care tips for alleviating the symptoms of bronchitis (4).

  • Let the child rest as much as possible and keep him or her away from dust, cold weather, and smoke. This will alleviate the general feeling of ill health.
  • Give the child plenty of water – at least seven to eight glasses of water – every day.
  • Keep a cool-mist humidifier in the child’s room.
  • Use saline nasal drops to ease the congestion in the chest. But talk to the doctor before doing so.
  • Let the child sit or sleep in an upright position to ease any breathing problems.

Home care combined with some natural remedies can help alleviate the symptoms of bronchitis. Next, we’ll look at a few home remedies you can try for bronchitis in children.

Natural Home Remedies For Bronchitis

These home remedies ease the discomfort but do not cure the condition. Talk to your doctor before trying these bronchitis home remedies for your child.

  • Ginger, an excellent natural remedy to treat the common cold, can also help alleviate bronchitis. You can make herbal ginger tea, by boiling ground ginger in water for 15 minutes. Add a little honey and give it to the child.
  • Garlic has anti-viral properties, making it a good agent to fight the virus affecting the bronchial tubes. Peel and chop garlic, and boil them in a glass of milk. Give it to the child before bedtime.
  • Turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory agent that can minimize the swelling of the bronchi and also get the excess mucus out. Add one teaspoon of turmeric to a glass of milk and boil it. Give it to the child two to three times a day for better results.
  • Steam therapy using eucalyptus oil can help relieve the congestion in the chest and nose.
  • Salt water gargling can also ease up the congestion by bringing the mucus out and clearing the airways.
  • A cough is one of the most discomforting symptoms of bronchitis. Honey is one of the best herbal remedies for cough and sore throat. Add honey and a dash of lemon to warm water and give it to the child to drink twice a day.
  • Raw onions can help dissolve the mucus and the phlegm that make breathing difficult. Add raw onions to the food or give the child a teaspoon of raw onion juice in the morning if he can drink it.

These remedies can be tried even if the child has the flu or cold, to prevent the infection from spreading to the bronchi. While you cannot entirely stop the child from developing bronchitis, you can minimize their chances of infection by following a few precautionary measures.

[ Read: Home Remedies For Child’s Cough ]

Preventing Bronchitis In Children

A child can develop bronchitis due to a number of reasons, which makes it difficult to prevent it entirely. However, these tips could minimize the risk.

  • Avoid mingling with people who may have a cold or a viral infection, such as the flu.
  • Do not share food bowls or drinking glasses.
  • Always make sure that the child washes his hands before eating or touching food.
  • Always cover the sneezes or coughs using a handkerchief or a tissue.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces around the child to prevent the spreading of the infection.

Bronchitis can be cured when it is detected early on. Ensure you get the child treated for the flu or cold sooner, for that can prevent the virus from spreading to the bronchial tubes. While there are no specific vaccinations for bronchitis, getting the child an annual flu shot can minimize the risk of infection.

Do you have any home care tips or suggestions for treating and preventing bronchitis in children? Let us know about it in our comments section.

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