Bronchiolitis obliterans (BO) is a rare disease involving concentric bronchiolar fibrosis that develops rapidly following inhalation of certain irritant gases at sufficiently high acute doses. While there are many potential causes of bronchiolar lesions involved in a variety of chronic lung diseases, failure to clearly define the clinical features and pathological characteristics can lead to ambiguous diagnoses. Irritant gases known to cause BO follow a similar pathologic process and time course of disease onset in humans. Studies of inhaled irritant gases known to cause BO (e.g., chlorine, hydrochloric acid, ammonia, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, sulfur or nitrogen mustards, and phosgene) indicate that the time course between causal chemical exposures and development of clinically significant BO disease is typically limited to a few months. The mechanism of toxic action exerted by these irritant gases generally involves widespread and severe injury of the epithelial lining of the bronchioles that leads to acute respiratory symptoms which can include lung edema within days. Repeated exposures to inhaled irritant gases at concentrations insufficient to cause marked respiratory distress or edema may lead to adaptive responses that can reduce or prevent severe bronchiolar fibrotic changes. Risk of BO from irritant gases is driven substantially by toxicokinetics affecting concentrations occurring at the bronchiolar epithelium. Highly soluble irritant gases that cause BO like ammonia generally follow a threshold-dependent cytotoxic mechanism of action that at sufficiently high doses results in severe inflammation of the upper respiratory tract and the bronchiolar epithelium concurrently. This is followed by acute respiratory distress, pulmonary edema, and post inflammatory concentric fibrosis that become clinically obvious within a few months.
Parents, be cautious and educated. I always tell parents to leave the crib bare! In my world of pediatrics, I tend to be about “less is better” in most cases. This is yet another example of this.