How to Keep Your Baby Healthy
Bronchiolitis & HFMD
A few days into her cold, your baby suddenly starts to wheeze and gasp for air. The muscles between her rib cage and collarbone cave in every time she takes a breath. The possible cause: bronchiolitis, an infection of the smallest breathing tubes of the lungs. "It's usually caused by the respiratory syncytial virus," says Dr. Powers. "An RSV infection causes the breathing passages to swell up, and this can block air from flowing through the lungs." Outbreaks usually occur during the cold and flu season, between October and March.
Although RSV often causes nothing more than a cold, it's more likely to trigger bronchiolitis in babies under 6 months because their airways are smaller. It can also be life-threatening: One study found that 16 percent of children under 1 who were hospitalized were admitted because of complications from bronchiolitis. Children at high risk may be given a monthly injection of Synagis, a protective medicine.
If you suspect your baby or toddler has bronchiolitis, let your pediatrician know right away. In mild cases, there's little you can do except ease her stuffy nose with a humidifier, a bulb syringe, and saltwater nose drops. "Babies may also have a harder time feeding, so watch for signs of dehydration," says Dr. Powers. In severe cases, your child may need bronchodilating drugs to open up her airways or emergency oxygen at the hospital. If your baby was born prematurely, she may be more susceptible to complications from RSV. Your doctor may also suggest she receive preventive injections.
Your child has a slight fever and tiny blisters all over his palms, the soles of his feet, and inside his mouth. No need to panic: He probably has hand-foot-and-mouth disease (HFMD). This is a common viral infection among toddlers, especially during the summer and fall. It's highly contagious but is usually mild and lasts only a few days. In isolated cases, however, HFMD has led to complications, such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and meningitis, so call the pediatrician if you think your child has it.
Don't be surprised if the doctor recommends nothing more than rest and acetaminophen to reduce the fever. "There's really no other treatment," says Dr. Shook, "but you can offer your child plenty of water and soft, bland foods -- such as custard, Jell-O, and ice cream -- that won't irritate the sores in his mouth." And watch out for dehydration, particularly in babies, who may find nursing painful.
To keep the virus from spreading to other family members, wash your child's bottles, plates, and eating utensils in the dishwasher on the hot-water cycle or use disposable ones until his infection clears up. Wash your hands regularly and throw away or clean toys that your child may have put in his mouth.
The good news: Battling all these viruses and bacteria can help build your child's resistance to these bugs. So the more he's exposed to them as a baby or toddler, the easier it will be for him to shake them off when he's older, and the healthier and happier he'll be.
Laura Muha is a freelance writer based in New Jersey.