What is bronchiolitis? — Bronchiolitis an infection that affects a part of the lungs called the “bronchioles.” The bronchioles are the small, branching tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. When these tubes are infected, they get swollen and full of mucus. That makes it hard to breathe.
Bronchiolitis usually affects children younger than 2 years of age. In most children, bronchiolitis goes away on its own. But some children with bronchiolitis need to be seen by a doctor. The most common cause of bronchiolitis is a virus called “respiratory syncytial virus,” or “RSV.”
What are the symptoms of bronchiolitis? — Bronchiolitis usually begins like a regular cold. Children who get bronchiolitis usually start off with:
●A stuffy or runny nose
●A mild cough
●A fever (temperature higher than 100.4ºF or 38ºC)
●A decreased appetite
As bronchiolitis progresses, other symptoms can start, including:
●Breathing faster than normal
●Pauses between breaths – Sometimes, a pause in breathing can last more than 15 or 20 seconds.
●Wheezing – This is a whistling sound when breathing. It usually lasts about 7 days.
●A severe cough – The cough can last for 14 days or longer.
●Trouble eating and drinking – Other symptoms can make a child less interested in food. In babies, a stuffy nose or fast breathing can make it harder to breastfeed or drink from a bottle.
Should I take my child to see a doctor or nurse? — Many children with bronchiolitis do not need to see a doctor. But you should watch for some important symptoms.
Call for an ambulance (in the US and Canada, dial 9-1-1) if your child:
●Has blue-looking lips, gums, or fingernails
●Has a very hard time breathing
●Looks like they are getting tired from working so hard to breathe
Call your child’s doctor or nurse if you have any questions or concerns about your child, or if:
●The skin and muscles between your child’s ribs or below your child’s ribcage look like they are caving in
●Your child’s nostrils flare (get bigger) when they take a breath
●Your baby is younger than 3 months and has a fever (temperature greater than 100.4ºF or 38ºC)
●Your child is older than 3 months and has a fever (temperature greater than 100.4ºF or 38ºC) for more than 3 days
●Your baby has fewer wet diapers than normal
How is bronchiolitis treated? — The main treatments for bronchiolitis are aimed at making sure that your child is getting enough oxygen. To do that, the doctor or nurse might need to suction the mucus from your child’s nose, or give your child moist air or oxygen to breathe.
The doctor will probably not offer antibiotics. That’s because bronchiolitis is caused by viruses, and antibiotics do not work on viruses.
Is there anything I can do on my own to help my child feel better? — Yes. Here are some things you can do:
●Make sure your child gets enough fluids. Call the doctor or nurse if your baby has fewer wet diapers than normal.
●Use a humidifier in the room where your child sleeps.
●If your child is uncomfortable because of fever, you can give over-the-counter medicines, such as acetaminophen (sample brand name: Tylenol) or ibuprofen (sample brand names: Advil, Motrin). Be sure to read instructions carefully. Never give aspirin to a child younger than 18 years old.
●Remove the mucus from your child’s nose with a suction bulb
●If your child is older than 1 year, feed them warm, clear liquids to soothe the throat and to help loosen mucus.
●Prop your child’s head up on pillows, if they are over a year old. (Do not use pillows for a child younger than 1 year.)
●Sleep in the same room as your child, so that you know right away they start having trouble breathing.
●Do not smoke or allow anyone else to smoke near your child.
How did my child get bronchiolitis? — Bronchiolitis is caused by viruses that spread easily from person to person. These viruses live in the droplets that go into the air when a sick person coughs or sneezes.
Can bronchiolitis be prevented? — There are ways to reduce your child’s chances of getting sick with bronchiolitis. These things also help prevent other illnesses, like colds, the flu, and coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
You can help keep your child healthy by:
●Washing your hands and your child’s hands often with soap and water, or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer
●Staying away from other adults and children who are sick
●Getting a flu shot every year for you and your child