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From MayoClinic.com

Diseases & Conditions A-Z

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Respiratory System


The windpipe (trachea) is the main airway to your lungs. Within your lungs, the trachea branches off into two main channels called bronchi, one in your left lung and one in your right. Within each lung, the bronchi branch off into smaller and smaller passageways, distributing air throughout your lungs. The smallest of these airways are called bronchioles.

Within your lungs, the main airways (bronchi) branch off into smaller and smaller passageways, the smallest of which are called bronchioles. At the end of the bronchioles are tiny air sacs (alveoli)....

Bronchiolitis occurs when an infectious agent — usually a virus — enters the respiratory system and makes its way to the bronchioles, causing them to become inflamed and swollen. As a result, mucus often collects in these airways, which can make it difficult for air to flow freely through your lungs. In older children and adults, the resulting signs and symptoms are generally mild. But an infant's bronchioles are much narrower than are an adult's and are more easily blocked, leading to greater difficulty breathing.

The respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a common virus, causes more than half of all bronchiolitis cases. The rest are caused by infectious agents such as parainfluenza viruses, the influenza (flu) virus, some adenoviruses or Mycoplasma pneumoniae organisms.

Bronchiolitis is contagious. You contract it just like you would a cold or the flu — by inhaling airborne droplets of infected mucus or other respiratory secretions or by touching objects contaminated by these secretions and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

Risk factors

One of the greatest risk factors for getting bronchiolitis is being less than 6 months old, because the lungs and immune system aren't yet fully developed. Boys tend to get bronchiolitis more frequently than girls do. Other factors that have been associated with an increased risk of bronchiolitis in children include:

  • Never having been breast-fed — breast-fed babies receive immune protection from the mother

  • Premature birth

  • Exposure to cigarette smoke

  • Contact with multiple children, such as in a child-care setting

  • Having siblings who attend school

When to seek medical advice

Signs and symptoms of bronchiolitis usually go away on their own after 7 or 10 days. But if you or your child has breathing problems, contact your doctor or your pediatrician.

If your child was born prematurely or has heart or lung disease, see your doctor at the first signs of illness, because this infection may quickly become severe.


Bronchiolitis > 1 > 2 > 3 > 4 >

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