What is bronchiolitis?
Bronchiolitis is an
infection of the
bronchioles , the small air passages in the lungs. It
is common in infants and is the leading cause of serious lower
What causes bronchiolitis?
Bronchiolitis is caused by a virus,
respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and frequently
occurs in the late fall to early spring.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of bronchiolitis include runny nose,
cough, and fever. After a few days, your child may experience shortness of
breath and/or breathing that is rapid and labored with wheezing.
severe infection in infants may cause a noticeably increased breathing rate.
For information on what to do if your child has trouble breathing, see the
Respiratory Problems, Age 11 and Younger.
If your child has heart disease or was born prematurely, call your
doctor at the first sign of bronchiolitis.
Symptoms of bronchiolitis are the worst in the first 5 days. Most children get better in 1 to 2 weeks.
How is bronchiolitis diagnosed?
A doctor may diagnose bronchiolitis based on a medical history, your
child's symptoms, and a physical exam. Testing is usually not needed if your
doctor suspects the bronchiolitis is caused by RSV.
How is it treated?
Home treatment to manage the
bronchiolitis is usually all that is needed. Have your
child drink plenty of liquids to avoid
dehydration. If your baby has a stuffy nose, use a
suction bulb to remove
mucus. Fever medicine (such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen) may help reduce fever discomfort. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20 because of the risk of
Reye syndrome, a serious illness. Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines are not
recommended. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
doctor may suggest
bronchodilator medicine if your child has shown the
tendency to have allergic reactions (atopy). In
severe cases, your child may need to stay in the hospital or get extra
How can you prevent bronchiolitis?
It is common for children to get respiratory
problems (such as bronchiolitis caused by a viral infection), because they are
often exposed to people who have infections to which they have not built up
immunity. Bronchiolitis is spread just like a cold. To
- Avoid contact with other children who have bronchiolitis or upper
respiratory infections. If there is an ill child in the home, separate him or
her from other children, if possible. Put the child in a room alone to sleep.
If your child has bronchiolitis, keep him or her home from school or day care
until he or she gets better.
- Wash your hands often to prevent spreading the disease.
Hand-washing removes the germs on your hands and helps stop the spread of germs
to your child when you touch your child or touch an object he or she might
- Do not smoke or use other tobacco products around your child.
Secondhand smoke irritates the mucous membranes in
your child's nose, sinuses, and lungs and increases his or her risk for
If your child was born early (prematurely), has heart or
lung disease, or has other conditions that make it more likely to have problems
from RSV, ask the doctor if palivizumab (Synagis) might help. This medicine
helps prevent bronchiolitis and other problems from RSV in children most likely
to have problems (susceptible). It is injected once a
month during RSV season—late fall to early spring.