What is childhood bronchiolitis?

Childhood bronchiolitis (pronounced brong-kee-oh-LIE-tiss) is a chest infection caused by a virus that affects bronchioles, the small breathing tubes in the lungs. It is a common infection in the first year of life, and especially in babies under six months of age. It causes babies and small children to cough, wheeze and have trouble breathing. It is important to note that having bronchiolitis as a baby does not mean your child will go on to develop asthma.

What is the difference between bronchiolitis and bronchitis?

Bronchitis affects larger tubes in the lungs called bronchi, while bronchiolitis affects smaller tubes called bronchioles.

What causes bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis is usually caused by a viral infection. Many viruses can cause the illness with the most common being RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). It is very infectious and is usually caught from a close contact who has a cold or cough. It can make babies sick for three to seven days, and the cough can last for several weeks.

How is bronchiolitis treated?

Most babies do not require any special medical treatment and will get better by themselves. They can be looked after at home if they are feeding well, do not look sick and are not having problems with breathing. Some babies may have trouble feeding, and will need to rest and drink little and often.

As bronchiolitis is caused by a virus, antibiotics will not help (antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections). Asthma puffers will not help babies with bronchiolitis, and giving your baby a blue reliever inhaler may make their breathing worse.


How do I take care of my child with bronchiolitis?

Most babies can be cared for at home. Offer your child small feeds of breast milk or infant formula and ensure they are warm, but not too hot. Allow your baby as much rest as possible and do not smoke in the house or around your baby. Try to keep baby’s nose clear, if their nose is blocked or crusty you can use saline nose drops (which can be bought from a pharmacy). Clearing the nose can often also help with feeding problems. You may give your baby paracetamol to help with discomfort, but be sure to use the correct dose.

Try to stay at home if you can, so your baby is not exposed to too many temperature changes. It is also important to keep your child away from other children, as bronchiolitis is very contagious for three to eight days.

Babies with more serious bronchiolitis may need to be admitted to hospital if they have trouble breathing or feeding, or if they are not able to get enough oxygen. The treatment may involve delivering oxygen via a small, soft plastic tube through your baby’s nose.

When should I go to my health practitioner?

You should visit your health practitioner if your child:

· is under three months old

· is breathing fast, has noisy breathing and is using extra effort to breathe

· looks pale and unwell

· is taking less than half of their normal feeds

· is vomiting

· has not had a wet nappy for six hours

· is giving you cause to worry or is getting worse

Call 111 and ask for an ambulance if your child:

· has severe difficulty breathing or has periods of stopping breathing

· has blue lips or tongue

· is becoming very sleepy and not easy to wake up

· Is pale or floppy

· has irregular breathing or pauses in their breathing

Even if you have already seen a health professional, if your baby’s breathing difficulties get worse, or you are worried, go back again.

How do I prevent my child getting bronchiolitis?

Keep your home smoke-free and do all you can to keep your home warm and dry. Breastfeeding your child beyond four months old can also boost their immune system and provide protection from viruses.

Have you read

View all