Kids Health Info

Bronchiolitis

  • Bronchiolitis is a common chest infection in young children. It usually occurs in babies under six months, but sometimes up to 12 months of age.

    It is caused by a viral infection of the lungs. Medicines do not usually help babies with bronchiolitis. Babies need to rest and have small feeds more often, so they don't get too tired when feeding and do not get dehydrated.

    Signs and symptoms

    The illness begins as a cold. After a day or so, your baby begins to cough, and the breathing becomes fast and sounds wheezy. This fast, wheezy breathing can make it difficult for your baby to eat or drink. Some children may need to be admitted to hospital because of these problems.

    The first symptoms your child may have are the same as a common cold. These symptoms last one to two days and include:

    • a runny nose
    • a mild cough
    • stuffiness

    They are followed by an increase in problems related to breathing, such as:

    • fast breathing
    • poor feeding
    • noisy breathing (wheezing)
    • drawing in of the chest with each breath
    • fever

    Babies with bronchiolitis are usually worst on the second or third day and are often sick for seven to 10 days. Their cough may continue for two to four weeks.

    Treatment

    DO NOT smoke in the home or around your baby. This is especially important around babies with any respiratory illness.

    • Medicines do not usually help babies with bronchiolitis. Antibiotics are not given because bronchiolitis is caused by a virus. Antibiotics do not cure viruses.
    • Babies need to rest and to take small amounts of fluid more often.  This will keep them from becoming too tired when feeding.
    • Give more frequent breastfeeds or smaller amounts of formula or water more often. If children do not get enough to drink they can become dehydrated.

    If your baby is distressed and having trouble feeding, they may need to be admitted to hospital. Staff may need to:

    • observe your baby
    • give extra oxygen
    • give extra fluids through a drip into a vein (intravenous/IV therapy) or via a nasogastric tube into the stomach

    Care at home

    • Give shorter breastfeeds, or smaller amounts of formula or water, more often. This way your child does not get too tired when feeding.
    • Avoid contact with other babies in the first few days, as bronchiolitis is an infectious disease.
    • Ensure your baby is in a smoke free environment.

    Follow-up

    Go to the nearest doctor or hospital emergency department if your child:

    • has difficulty breathing (very fast or not regular breaths)
    • cannot feed normally because of coughing or wheezing
    • is changing colour in the face when they cough
    • turns blue or has skin that is pale and sweaty

    Make an appointment for your child to see a doctor if:

    • they have a cough that is getting worse
    • they have less than half their normal feeds or are refusing food or drinks
    • they seem very tired or are more sleepy than usual
    • you are worried in any way

    Key points to remember

    • Babies need to rest and drink small amounts more often.
    • Bronchiolitis is an infectious disease in the first few days of illness.
    • It is more common in babies under six months old.
    • Babies are usually sick for three to five days, and then recover over the next seven to 10 days. The cough may continue for two to four weeks.
    • Smoking in the home increases the chance of babies having bronchiolitis and will make it worse.

    For more information

    • Your local doctor (GP).

     

    Developed by RCH departments: General MedicineCentre for Community Child Health, Thoracic Medicine. First published August 2003 Updated November 2010.


Disclaimer 
This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.