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Acute Bronchiolitis: The Less, the Better?

BACKGROUND: Acute bronchiolitis is a viral infection of the lower respiratory tract affecting infants aged under 12 months, variably presenting with respiratory distress, diffuse crackles and inflammatory wheezing. The main causative agent is Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). The diagnosis is clinical and treatment mainly supportive. Despite the availability of more than 30 international guidelines, consistent management recommendations are lacking and considerable variability in patients' care persists among different providers.

OBJECTIVE: To review and describe current knowledge about epidemiology, physiopathology, clinic, diagnosis and management of acute bronchiolitis, with particular emphasis on updated evidence and future perspectives in terms of treatment and prevention.

METHODS AND RESULTS: We searched Cochrane for systematic reviews and PubMed for scientific articles published in the last 10 years, using a combination of the following search terms: "bronchiolitis", "respiratory syncytial virus", "epidemiology", "risk factors", "severity", "diagnosis", "clinic", "diagnostic imaging", "management", "asthma", "wheezing", "bronchodilator", "steroids", "hypertonic saline", "oxygen", "blood gas analysis", "HHHFNC", "rehydration", "enteral feeding", "parenteral hydration", "prevention", "vaccine" and "COVID-19 or SARS-CoV2". We accordingly performed a deep and extensive selection of the most updated and considerable literature on the matter, summarizing the most significant evidence concerning all aspects of acute bronchiolitis (epidemiology, clinic, diagnosis, management and prevention). Furthermore, we examined references and available guidelines from UK, USA, Canada, Italy and Spain. Results are extensively discussed below.

CONCLUSION: Although acute bronchiolitis has been a widely known disease for decades, its therapeutic approach remained unchanged and essentially limited to respiratory and metabolic support. Despite the abundance of studies, there is no significant evidence concerning therapeutic alternatives (e.g. steroids, inhaled hypertonic solution), which are therefore not recommended. According to most recent data, "acute bronchiolitis" definition encompasses a plethora of different clinical entities related to each subject's genetic and immune predisposition. Therefore, future research should focus on the precise characterization of such subcategories in order to individualize therapeutic management and ensure the most appropriate evidence-based care.

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