Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pneumonia and Bronchitis in babies

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I’ve had a number of sleepless nights for almost two weeks now. It’s because my daughter has been coughing vigorously in her sleep and vomits out milk that she just drank hours ago. (A few days ago, it was rice with fish and some vegetables and bean sprouts. She must have swallowed them whole.) As I’m a rather light sleeper, I’d usually wake up when she starts to cough that kind of deep, belly cough filled with phlegm and mucus, just in case she vomits. Usually I get up from bed and out of the room to get a spare plastic basin for her to vomit in. Or just in the nick of time, like last night, I stopped in the middle of my prayers and put my hand in front of her mouth to catch her vomit, so minimal amount of vomit spills onto her cot. This has happened several times, in bed, in the car or pretty much anytime I noticed her coughing. Yesterday and this morning, I arrived at the office with my hand smelling of vomit.

When this kind coughing spells hit, I would of course, consequently sleep less smoothly. I noticed that my daughter is quite sensitive to certain kind of foods i.e. cold food like puddings cold drinks, oily food like fried fish crackers, even some types of tropical fruit. Her coughing would start that very night after she consumed such foods. Incidentally, she’s quite prone to catch colds and coughs infection, because she goes to a nursery where there are a lot of kids. (This is one very well-known disadvantage of sending your child to a children day-care centre.) It’s unlikely that a day-care centre with two or three caregivers to monitor very strict cleanliness of ten to fifteen toddlers at the same time. And it’s quite certain, that when one kid gets sick, others would get catch the virus pretty quickly.

The diagnosis

My daughter was diagnosed with pneumonia once, when she was around 10 months old and had to be hospitalized for three days. (The doctor asked to stay for another two days, but we politely declined. We promised to give her medicine and all that.) How the pediatrician diagnosed her was pretty much by the text book; he watched how she breathed and listened to her lungs with a stethoscope for her breathing patterns sounds and any abnormality. He mentioned that she breathed more rapidly to take in more oxygen because of the mucus in her lungs. And because babies do not know how to spit out the phlegm, she simply swallows them back into her lungs, causing an infection. After looking at my daughter’s chest x-rays, he confirmed it pneumonia and asked us to register her into the hospital ward.

The symptoms

It all started with the coughing and high fever, which are the main symptoms of pneumonia. She was certainly coughing hard until she usually vomits, and her temperature went up to 41 degree Celsius. Her breathing was quickened, she refuses to drink her milk, sometimes drinking only once a day and she was very weak, she keeps lying down and slept by herself. (If you knew how very hyperactive she is, then you’ll know that this is VERY rare.)

Difference between pneumonia and bronchitis

Bronchitis is an infection of the bronchial tubes. Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs. Bronchitis is a less severe form of pneumonia, but it will develop into pneumonia if left unchecked. Both illnesses have common symptoms and are caused by either these two reasons; bacteria or virus.

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If it is caused by virus, the main treatment would be lots of rest and consuming plenty of liquids, to fight dehydration from the rapid breathing and fever. You can try a cool mist humidifier in the room to combat the dryness in the air that’s causing her to cough. (FYI, air-conditioning is very drying, not only to the skin, but also to the throat.)

If it is caused by bacteria like what my daughter had, she was given antibiotics and other medications though a needle in her hand, which is more effective than consuming them orally. She was also give some nasal medication to dry up her runny nose and at times, fitted with an oxygen mask to help ease her breathing. And of course, lots of fluid and rest is essential to any sick child.


Some ways of upping her chances to stay healthy are:
  • Keep her vaccinations up to date as this helps to ward off many illnesses that can lead to pneumonia and bronchitis, such as measles. In Malaysia, taking up chicken pox and pneumococcal vaccines is not part of the normal routine vaccination schedules, but my daughter’s pediatrician did recommend it. It’s more expensive, by the way.
  • Practicing good hygiene is important too. Frequent hand-washing prevent the spreading of germs and bacteria. But as you probably know, it’s impossible to keep watch on your child every second of the day. Sharing cups, plates and utensils spreads germs easily too, so that’s why kids at day care centres get sick more easily. My point is, try to be clean as humanely possible, but please not to the extent of contracting obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
  • Try to maintain the home smoke-free. Ask any person or guests who smokes to do it outside. Studies have shown that children who live around cigarette smoke get sick more frequently and are more susceptible to pneumonia, upper respiratory infections and asthma. What better reason to quit smoking than to have healthy children?
  • On a personal note, take notice on any factors that could make your child sick, e.g. how eating oily or cold food can start coughing bouts for my daughter. When family members offer such foods, politely decline. This could prove to be difficult too, as my daughter would want to try to eat anything she sees. So if we don’t her to want to eat, better to hide it in the first place.

Although prevention is better, I must say it’s rather impossible to totally keep pneumonia out the door. Babies and young toddlers are highly prone to bronchitis and pneumonia as their immune systems are weak and are still developing. And for me, it’s rather unrealistic to keep tabs on every single food that passes through her little hands. Kids are explorers, after all. So just do your best to protect your child.



  1. Excellent article - thanks! It seems that you have answered the best related to the Topic with all best example as well... Thanks again for spreading the good work in the Society ...

    Kids Care Centre

  2. thanks for your comment, glad to know that my experience have helped others! :)

  3. Thanks for sharing this with such in depth details about bronchitis. This is indeed a very informative post and really helpful for those suffering for bronchitis.

  4. The question is “ is bronchitis contagious “ So chronic bronchitis isn't contagious, but it's a severe health issue that needs a doctor's concern. Acute Bronchitis is contagious, which can last for 1 to 3 weeks? It's usually caused by cold or flu viruses. Since these viruses are contagious, acute bronchitis usually is, too.


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