Acute Bronchitis in Children
What is acute bronchitis? Acute bronchitis is swelling and irritation in your child's air passages. This irritation may cause him to cough or have other breathing problems. Acute bronchitis often starts because of another illness, such as a cold or the flu. The illness spreads from your child's nose and throat to his windpipe and airways. Bronchitis is often called a chest cold. Acute bronchitis lasts about 2 weeks and is usually not a serious illness.
What causes or increases my child's risk for acute bronchitis?
Infection: Acute bronchitis is most often caused by a type of germ called a virus. It may also be caused by other germs, such as bacteria, yeast, or a fungus.
Polluted air: Acute bronchitis can be caused when your child breathes air that has chemical fumes, dust, or pollution.
Cigarette smoke: If you smoke around your child, he may be at higher risk for acute bronchitis.
Medical problems: Your child may be more likely to get bronchitis if he has other medical problems. Examples include asthma, frequent swollen tonsils, allergies, or heart problems.
Premature birth: Babies who are premature (born too early) may be at higher risk for bronchitis.
What are the signs and symptoms of acute bronchitis?
- Your child has a constant cough. The cough may last up to a month. His cough may be dry, or he may cough up mucus. Mucus may be green, yellow, white, or have streaks of blood in it. Your child may have chest pain when he coughs or takes a deep breath.
- Your child has a fever, body aches, and chills.
- Your child has a sore throat and a runny or stuffy nose.
- Your child is short of breath and wheezes (makes a high-pitched noise) when he breathes.
- Your child is more tired than usual.
How is acute bronchitis diagnosed? Healthcare providers will ask about your child's signs and symptoms. Tell healthcare providers about other medical conditions your child may have. He may need the following:
Blood tests: You may need blood taken to give caregivers information about how your body is working. The blood may be taken from your hand, arm, or IV.
Chest x-ray: This is a picture of your child's lungs and heart. Healthcare providers may use the x-ray to look for signs of infection, such as pneumonia. Chest x-rays may also show fluid around your child's heart and lungs.
How is acute bronchitis treated?
Cough medicine: This medicine helps loosen mucus in your child's lungs and make it easier to cough up. This can help him breathe easier.
Ibuprofen or acetaminophen: Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are medicines that decrease your child's fever. Ask your child's healthcare provider how much medicine you should give your child and how often. You can buy these medicines without a doctor's order.
Inhalers: Your child's healthcare provider may give him one or more inhalers to help him breathe easier and cough less. An inhaler gives medicine in a mist form so that your child can breathe it into his lungs. Ask your child's healthcare provider to show him how to use his inhaler correctly.
How can I care for my child when he has acute bronchitis?
Avoid smoke: Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around your child.
Drink more liquids: Most people should drink at least 8 eight-ounce cups of water a day. Your child may need to drink more liquids when he has acute bronchitis. Liquids help to keep the air passages moist and better able to cough up mucus.
Use a humidifier: Use a cool mist humidifier to increase air moisture in your home. This may make it easier for your child to breathe and help decrease his cough.
What are the risks of acute bronchitis? Your child's bronchitis may turn into a serious infection, such as pneumonia. The chance of his bronchitis becoming a serious illness is increased if he has other health problems. Many respiratory illnesses over a period of time may cause permanent lung problems.
When should I call my child's healthcare provider? Call your child's healthcare provider if:
- Your child has a fever.
- Your child's cough does not go away or worsens.
- Your child is tugging at his ears or has ear pain.
- Your child has swollen or painful joints.
- Your child has a new rash or itchy skin.
- Your child has new symptoms or his symptoms get worse.
- You have any questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.
When should I seek immediate care? Seek care immediately or call 911 if:
- Your child's breathing problems get worse, or he wheezes with every breath.
- Your child has signs of struggling to breathe. These signs may include:
- Skin between the ribs or around his neck being sucked in with each breath (retractions)
- Flaring (widening) of his nose when he breathes
- Trouble talking or eating because of his breathing problems
- Your child has a headache and a stiff neck with his fever.
- Your child's lips or nails turn gray or blue.
- Your child is dizzy, confused, faints, or is much harder to wake up than usual.
- Your child has signs of dehydration. Dehydration means that your child does not have enough fluid in his body. Signs of dehydration may include:
- Crying without tears
- Dry mouth or cracked lips
- Urinating less, or darker urine than normal
You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's caregivers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.
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