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Bronchiolitis Obliterans


Updated November 17, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Definition: Bronchiolitis obliterans is a lung disease that causes inflammation and obstruction of the small airways of the lungs, also known as the bronchioles. The disease is sometimes included in a differential diagnosis of COPD.


In some cases, the cause of bronchiolitis obliterans is unknown; however, identified causes include:

  • Inhalation of toxic fumes
  • Respiratory infections
  • Connective tissue disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Reaction to certain medications
  • After a bone marrow, lung or heart and lung transplant

Symptoms of Bronchiolitis Obliterans

While it can take years for symptoms of the disease to appear after a transplant, the following symptoms (which closely mimic those of COPD) may appear within two to eight weeks after exposure to toxic fumes or a lung infection:


To help diagnose the disease, doctors may order the following:

Treatment of Bronchiolitis Obliterans

Like COPD, bronchiolitis obliterans is irreversible. The following treatment, however, may help slow its progression:
  • Rapid removal of exposure to the irritating toxin (if this is the cause of the disease)
  • Medication, including corticosteroids and drugs that reduce the body's immune response (immunosuppressants)
  • Organ transplant

Because bronchiolitis obliterans can be fatal if left untreated, early intervention is paramount to successful management of the disease.

Also Known As: Obliterative bronchiolitis
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