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Signs of Bronchitis in Infants

By Dorian Facey ; Updated June 13, 2017

Bronchial tubes are the pathway for the passage of air into your lungs. When the lining of these tubes becomes inflamed, a condition known as bronchitis develops. The condition can be acute, lasting only a few days, or chronic. Chronic bronchitis is a more serious condition, with irritation of the bronchial tubes being a constant or recurring problem. Infants are more susceptible to bronchitis than adults.

Infants and Bronchitis

The airways of infants, by virtue of their smaller size, are more easily blocked than those of adults when mucus builds up during inflammation. This problem is most often seen in the first two years of life, with peak occurrence being between ages 3 to 6 months. Bronchitis is usually the result of a viral infection, and may be preceded by conditions such as colds or the flu. The infection spreads from the nose and throat to the airways, or bronchial tubes.

The Symptoms

Symptoms of bronchitis include a mucus-producing cough, low-grade fever and lethargy. Other respiratory difficulties associated with inflamed airways in infants may be indicated by fast, shallow breathing, flared nostrils, increased heart rate and movement of the neck and chest during breathing, a phenomenon known as retraction. Shortness of breath and wheezing are often seen in both acute and chronic bronchitis.

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Treating Bronchitis

Typically, acute bronchitis resulting from a viral infection does not require treatment. It will usually clear up within a week, although a dry cough may persist for much longer. Increase your infant’s fluid intake, encourage resting and talk to your doctor about what you should use to reduce fever if there is one. If your infant is wheezing, the doctor may prescribe a bronchodilator, or inhaler. The inhaler delivers medicine in a fine mist that is inhaled into the lungs to help your child breath more easily. Some cough medicines may help remove mucus from the lungs and help your child’s breathing, but cough suppressants should be avoided if possible. The Mayo Clinic does not recommend using medicines that suppress the cough, since the cough will help get rid of excess mucus.

Risk Factors

Factors that increase your infant’s risk of developing bronchitis include exposure to cigarette smoke, air pollutants such as dust and chemical fumes, illnesses such as asthma or allergies and premature birth. Encouraging your infant to take more fluids and using a humidifier in the home may help ease the symptoms experienced with inflamed airways.

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