Bronchitis In Children: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, And Remedies

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Bronchitis in kids is a viral or bacterial infection characterized by the inflammation of the lining of the large breathing tubes (bronchi). This lining makes mucus and protects the underlying tissues. When the lining is inflamed, it makes a lot of mucus, making it difficult for the air to pass through and reach the bronchi. The main symptom of the infection is cough. Children may have dry coughs or wet coughs with mucus (1) (2).

Read the post to know about the types, causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of bronchitis in children.

Types And Causes Of Bronchitis In Children

Bronchitis-causing pathogens spread through the mucus and respiratory droplets of the infected person (1) (3) (4).

1. Acute bronchitis

Acute bronchitis usually occurs after a common cold or upper respiratory tract infection.

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  • It is a temporary inflammation of the bronchi caused by bacteria or viruses.
  • It may also be caused by dust, allergens, fumes, cleaning chemicals, or tobacco smoke.
  • Acute bronchitis usually occurs after a common cold or upper respiratory tract infection.
  • Although it may affect people of all ages, it is most common in children under five. Acute bronchiolitis is also common in children between two months and two years.
  • The infection is mostly mild but may be severe in some cases, specially in young infants. It usually lasts for a short duration.
Quick fact
Bacterial bronchitis is considered to occur more commonly than viral bronchitis (2).

2. Chronic bronchitis

  • The main cause of the infection is smoking and being around tobacco smoke or chemical fumes for a long time.
  • It is rare in children and mostly affects people over 40.
  • The infection may be mild or severe and may last several months to years.

Signs And Symptoms Of Bronchitis In Children

Fever is a symptom of Bronchitis in children.

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The primary symptom of the condition is a dry, non-productive cough or wet cough with thick yellow, white, or green mucus. Children usually cannot expectorate the mucus. Instead they swallow it and it comes out when they vomit. Children may also experience the following symptoms (1) (4).

  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Discomfort in the body
  • Muscle pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty in feeding or sucking from mother’s breast
  • Wheezing due to inflamed bronchi
  • Cough-induced vomiting

The symptoms may last for a few days to weeks; however, the cough may stay for some time even after the symptoms have disappeared (3).

You should see a doctor if children have (3) (5):

  • A temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher
  • A high temperature for more than three days (the sign of flu or pneumonia)
  • Cough with blood in mucus
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeding difficulty
  • Frequent bronchitis

Risks And Complications Of Bronchitis In Children

"Asthma is a risk of Bronchitis in children. "

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The presence of the following conditions may increase the child’s risk of developing bronchitis or bronchiolitis (6).

  • Allergies
  • Chronic sinusitis
  • Asthma
  • Enlarged tonsils and adenoids
  • Secondhand smoke
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Underlying immunodeficiency disorder
  • Incomplete immunization

Most children recover without major issues. Bronchitis may sometimes lead to pneumonia, the most common complication. Pneumonia occurs when the lungs’ air sacs are infected and fill up with fluid (3). In severe cases, acute bronchiolitis may complicate into heart failure, convulsions or respiratory failure.

Diagnosis Of Bronchitis In Children

Chest X-ray to detect any sign of infection in the tissues, organs, and bones.

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Healthcare providers diagnose bronchitis in children based on the medical history and physical examination. They check the child’s chest to detect wheezing or congestion during the examination. They also suggest diagnostic tests to rule out further complications (4) (6).

  • Chest X-ray to detect any sign of infection in the tissues, organs, and bones. Chest X ray in acute bronchiolitis usually shows bilateral air trapping. It is not always required and depends on the discretion of the clinician.
  • Pulse oximetry to measure the amount of oxygen in the blood.
  • Sputum and nasal discharge sample test (culture and PCR ) to detect the germs causing the infection.
  • Blood tests to check for blood cell count, blood culture if necessary .
  • Spirometry to detect asthma signs in some children.

Treatment For Bronchitis In Children

Acetaminophen or paracetamol is given to treat fever.

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Acute bronchitis gets better on its own; however, doctors may suggest some treatments based on the child’s medical history, overall health, and the condition’s severity (1) (3) (4).

1. Antibiotics are often not prescribed since most bronchitis infections are viral. Nevertheless, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics if the causative agent is detected to be bacteria. Doctors may also suggest antibiotics if:

  • There is an increased risk of pneumonia
  • The child has a weak immune system
  • There is a history of lung, heart, kidney, and liver disease

2. Acetaminophen or paracetamol is given to treat fever.

Point to consider
Ibuprofen may also be used for fever and mild pain (14).

3. Cough medications may be given to children when prescribed by the doctor. They should never be self prescribed.

4. Bronchodilators or other anti-asthma medicines may be suggested if the child has persistent coughs and wheezing. These medicines are given through inhalers or nebulizers, and some may be given orally also.

Home Remedies For Bronchitis

Bronchitis in children may be managed at home through the following remedies (5) (7).

  • Allow them to rest well.
  • Give plenty of fluid to prevent dehydration, along with nutritious food.
  • Use a cool-mist humidifier to help breathe comfortably.
  • Use a saline nasal spray to decongest a stuffy nose.

Here are some natural remedies that may also work.

  • Encourage older children to gargle with warm salt water as it helps to soothe the sore throat.
  • Pineapple suppresses cough and loosens mucus as it contains a protein-digesting enzyme called bromelain.
  • Grapes help to release mucus from the affected respiratory passages.
  • Probiotics may be given to children to strengthen their immune systems. However, you should take a doctor’s opinion (8).
Quick tip
Honey may be used to reduce the severity and duration of a bronchitis cough, but avoid giving honey to children under one year because of the risk of botulism (2).

Prevention Of Bronchitis In Children

Prevention of bronchitis is possible by following these tips (1) (2) (9).

  • Wash hands with soap and warm water.
  • Do not touch the face often.
  • Use your elbow or a tissue to cough or sneeze.
  • Do not let children be around secondhand tobacco smoke.
  • Encourage children to wear masks near irritants, such as automobile smoke, dust, or chemical fumes.
  • Ensure that your child gets the flu shot every year and all other routine vaccines on time.
Things to know
Children with bronchitis can go to their child care center or attend school if they’re feeling well other than having bronchitis (2).

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How long can bronchitis last in kids?

The bronchitis symptoms persist for one to two weeks, but the cough may last for three to four weeks (10). If the symptoms don’t resolve, it is better to consult the doctor.

2. Can a child go to school with bronchitis?

A child with bronchitis should stay home until the cough and fever subside without medications. Once they feel better, they may go to school (11) (12).

3. How do I tell if my child has bronchitis or pneumonia?

Both pneumonia and bronchitis share common symptoms, such as cough, tiredness, and yellow or green sputum. But bronchitis is mainly caused by viruses and pneumonia by bacteria. In addition, pneumonia is characterized by high persistent fever and chills, unlike bronchitis (13).

Bronchitis in children is usually not serious, but early treatment is necessary to avoid complications. If you feel your child is showing bronchitis symptoms, start with home remedies to prevent the infection from growing. Take advice from your doctor on appropriate treatment options.

References:

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  1. Bronchitis.
    https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/bronchitis.html
  2. Bronchitis.
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  3. Bronchitis.
    https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/bronchitis/
  4. Acute Bronchitis.
    https://www.cincinnatichildrens.org/health/a/acute-bronchitis
  5. Chest Cold (Acute Bronchitis).
    https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/bronchitis.html
  6. Bronchitis.
    https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=90&ContentID=P02930
  7. Do Any Bronchitis Home Remedies Actually Work?
    https://health.clevelandclinic.org/bronchitis-home-remedies/
  8. Shahnaz Sultana et al.; (2016); Cough Suppressant Herbal Drugs: A Review.
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  10. Acute Bronchitis in Children.
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  11. WHEN SHOULD MY SICK CHILD STAY HOME FROM SCHOOL?
    https://healthcare.utah.edu/the-scope/shows.php?shows=0_u3m74jid
  12. Bronchitis.
    https://cdn5-ss1.sharpschool.com/UserFiles/Servers/Server_20241558/File/Health%20Services/Bronchitis.pdf
  13. Bronchitis or pneumonia? How to tell the difference.
    https://www.uchealth.org/today/bronchitis-or-pneumonia-how-to-tell-the-difference/
  14. Acute Bronchitis in Children.
    https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=acute-bronchitis-in-children-90-P02930
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