Coronavirus or COVID-19 has been dominating the headlines for months now, and at times it seems like it is the only illness doing the rounds. But don't forget this time of year is rife with other respiratory diseases that affect our little ones, such as bronchiolitis - a fact Mini First Aid Founder and Director Kate Ball knows all too well. With all 5 of Kate's girls being hospitalised over the years with bronchiolitis, Kate has vast knowledge of this nasty winter virus. Read on for the lowdown on what symptoms to look out for, which symptoms mean it is serious and how to cope if your child is hospitalised . . .
Cold is coming…
As well as COVID-19, this is the time of year for streaming colds. No matter what precautions are being taken to avoid COVID-19, school and nursery children will still unwittingly be sharing germs without even knowing. We all know how the common cold virus is spread, by coughs, sneezes transferred in the air and on our hands. That is why washing hands, covering mouths when coughing and then washing hands after coughing are so important. Whilst we know coming into contact with a cold is sometimes unavoidable, ask visitors to keep away if they have a cold, especially from babies.
All our girls have had bronchiolitis over the last few years. So what is it? What do you need to look out for? How does it differ from COVID-19? And why does the virus affect so many little ones?
Bronchiolitis is very common in the winter months, peaking between October and March. It is in fact the most common lower respiratory infection in the first year of life in the UK, and around a third of babies will develop bronchiolitis before the age of one. Bronchiolitis often starts with cold-like symptoms – a snuffly nose and slightly high temperature, and over the next few days will develop into a cough, wheezy chest and breathlessness. It is a viral infection and cannot be treated by antibiotics.
Bronchiolitis is most commonly caused by RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) and is an infection which affects infants lungs. Most children will have caught RSV by the time they are two. Most will have a cold-like illness and get better on their own. However for some babies, the smallest air passages (bronchioles) in the lungs become moist and inflamed, leading to problems with breathing. Bronchiolitis is especially common in infants under one year of age. Your baby may struggle to keep any feeds down due to coughing, and may need fluids and extra oxygen to help them breathe. Something we are all too familiar with in our family.
We’d experienced bronchiolitis in our family before so 2 winter's ago when the baby twins were showing symptoms I called 111 who sent an ambulance to whisk us to children’s A & E*. Upon arrival, we were ‘triaged’ which means you are allocated a level of need. Triage identify very sick children who need immediate medical review and intervention. This is why it can appear that other families are ‘jumping the queue’. Your child’s level of need is based on a score given to heart rate, breathing, temperature and level of alertness – otherwise known as ‘observations’. Medical professionals will do observations throughout your stay to indicate whether or not they need to be worried and escalate treatment.
Nurses will oversee your care; from making sure you are reviewed by the medical team at the right time, to getting hold of a breast pump or nappies. They provide invaluable emotional support and are a good listening ear during what can be an emotional journey. You may be seen by a more Junior Doctor or highly skilled advanced Nurse Practitioner before being reviewed by the Registrar or Consultant.
ASK QUESTIONS. Don’t be scared to ask what staff mean if they use ridiculous words or if you think something hasn’t been clearly explained.
· What do you think is going on?
· Are you worried about them?
· What is preventing us from going home?
The twins were admitted and given their milk by an NG (nasogastric) feeding tube, their oxygen levels and temperature monitored. We were in hospital for 3 days and the girls were sent home to recover. Most babies recover completely, although the cough can hang on for up to a few weeks. Adults and older children can get RSV as it is very contagious – however their symptoms are usually only a mild cough or cold.
Whilst bronchiolitis is common in the winter months and very contagious it is not deemed as life threatening. However, young babies will always be treated with caution, so if you are concerned ring 111 for advice or if your baby is struggling to breathe or becomes unresponsive call 999*. Above all, trust your maternal instinct. Even if you have seen a doctor who tells you everything is OK, but you don’t feel satisfied or happy, then get a second opinion. You know your child best. Don’t settle unless you are 100% sure that they are ok to be at home. No one will ever tell you off for being over cautious.
Kate Ball, Founder and Director, Mini First Aid
*don't forget that due to COVID-19 you will need a face covering which covers your face and mouth whilst in hospital. Also be prepared that you may only be allowed one parent or carer to attend.