What the heck is Bronchiolitis? Is that like Bronchitis?

No one ever accused modern medicine of being good at naming things.  There are so many jokes out there that whole web sites are devoted to making fun of medical terminology (Example: Definition of Barium: What doctors do after their patients die).  Even Boudreaux and Thibideaux are in on the joke (Doctor: Boudreaux, you’re not sick, you’re just lazy.  Boudreaux: Doc, I coulda tol’ you dat.  But ah need you to give it a big medical name that I can go home and tell Marie!). 

It really gets confusing when we name important and common things alike.  Bronchiolitis is a very common and serious illness in infants, and we see it a lot in the winter.  This winter has been particularly busy.  Bronchiolitis starts out as a regular cold, with cough and runny nose.  Then the baby starts having fevers and wheezing and trouble breathing that looks and sounds like asthma.  Sometimes babies have to be in the hospital for oxygen and IV fluids, because they are too busy breathing hard to be able to drink their milk. 

Bronchiolitis IS NOT bronchitis.  When adult doctors use the term bronchitis, they are talking about an infection in the airways that is often treated with antibiotics.  Kids don’t get bronchitis- rarely do they need an antibiotic for coughs and colds.  Bronchiolitis is caused by viruses, and antibiotics don’t cure those.  One of the more common viruses to cause bronchiolitis is the RSV virus, and often doctors and families use RSV and Bronchiolitis to mean the same thing.  However, many viruses can cause bronchiolitis, not just RSV. 

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of things that make bronchiolitis better.  As above, antibiotics are useless.  The breathing treatments we use for asthmatics do not help most babies with bronchiolitis.  Steroids don’t help either.  Doctors sometimes prescribe treatments or steroids for lack of anything better to do.  The only thing really that can be done is “supportive care”.  This means fluids and oxygen and monitoring in the hospital when needed.

How do you keep your baby from getting bronchiolitis?  As usual, keep them clean.  Wash your hands to make sure your cold virus does not get on baby and baby’s stuff.  Visitors and family need to wash their hands too before picking up baby.  People with colds need to keep their distance.  Day Care and Mother’s Day Out workers need to be extra careful about this.

So when you hear your baby’s doctor talk about bronchiolitis, listen up.  If the doctor talks about bronchitis, they must be making a joke.  Paging Dr. Boudreaux.


5 thoughts on “What the heck is Bronchiolitis? Is that like Bronchitis?

  1. Hi Dr. Hamilton,

    I am a senior in college majoring in Biology and have hopes of becoming a pediatrician one day (fingers crossed)! Your posts are very informative and I enjoy how you keep the topic at hand engaging and entertaining (referring to the Thibodeaux & Boudreaux jokes). Is there a way you can make your webpage available for reader subscriptions? For now, I will just bookmark your page and keep checking back for updates! Thanks for being inspirational!


    • I have no idea. I will check with the blog page management guys. Good luck with admissions, hope you get “the letter” one day soon!

  2. Hmm it appears like your website ate my first comment (it was extremely long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I submitted and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. I as well am an aspiring blog blogger but I’m still new to the whole thing. Do you have any tips and hints for novice blog writers? I’d certainly appreciate it.

    • Thanks for the compliment! The only advice I have is two fold. First, have a focus. The focus of this blog is to give families advice they need to keep kids generally happy and healthy, and specifically to keep them safe and out of the Pediatric Emergency Department. Second, have a sponsor who is eager to promote the blog. My sponsors are Lafayette General Medical Center and KLFY-TV in Lafayette.

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