What is bronchiolitis?
Bronchiolitis is an infection that causes the tiniest airways in your child’s lungs to become swollen. This can make it more difficult for your child to breathe:
- Bronchiolitis is caused by virus infections.
- It is common in winter months and usually only causes mild cold like symptoms.
- Most children get better on their own.
- Some children, especially very young ones, can have difficulty with breathing or feeding and may need to go to hospital.
What are the symptoms?
Signs are often similar to those of a common cold, such as a blocked or runny nose, a cough, and a slightly high temperature (fever). After a few days your child’s cough may become worse.
Your child’s breathing may be faster than normal and it may become noisy. They may need to make more effort to breathe. Sometimes, in the very young babies, bronchiolitis may cause them to have brief pauses in their breathing.
As breathing becomes more difficult, your baby may not be able to take their usual amount of milk by breast or bottle. You may notice fewer wet nappies than usual. Your child may vomit after feeding and become miserable.
Most children with bronchiolitis have mild symptoms and recover within 2 to 3 weeks, but it’s important to look out for signs of more serious problems, such as breathing difficulties.
Dial 999 for an ambulance if:
- has blue lips
- has pauses in their breathing (apnoeas) or has an irregular breathing pattern or starts grunting
- severe difficulty in breathing – too breathless to feed
- becomes pale, mottled and feels abnormally cold to touch
- becomes extremely agitated, confused or very lethargic (difficult to wake)
- is under 3 months of age with a temperature of 38°C / 100.4°F or above (unless fever in the 48 hours following vaccinations and no other red or amber features)
If your child has any of the following, you need to contact a doctor or nurse today:
- has laboured/rapid breathing or they are working hard to breath – drawing in of the muscles below their lower ribs, at their neck or between their ribs (recession)
- seems dehydrated (sunken eyes, drowsy or no urine passed for 12 hours)
- is becoming drowsy (excessively sleepy)
- seems to be getting worse or if you are worried
How can I look after my child?
If you’re looking after your child at home, check on them regularly, including throughout the night.
Contact your GP or NHS 111 if their condition worsens, some children will need to be admitted to hospital with their condition.
There’s no medicine that can kill the virus that causes bronchiolitis, but you should be able to ease mild symptoms and make your child more comfortable.
- keep your child upright
- make sure your child has plenty of fluid
- avoid contact with anybody who smokes
- relieve their fever – babies and children can be given paracetamol as long as they are 2 months or older
- saline nasal drops