What is it? What are the symptoms? What are the treatments?

What is bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis is a common respiratory tract infection that affects up to a third of babies in their first year. Young children are also susceptible. The illness is often caused by an airborne virus known as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). This makes the bronchioles (the smallest airways in the lungs) swollen and infected, making breathing difficult. The same virus can also cause ear infections, croup and pneumonia, so keep an eye on your child's fever and watch out for any other symptoms. Bronchiolitis is mostly a winter illness, occurring most often between November and March.

You should seek immediate medical help if your baby:

  • Develops a fever above 38 degrees celcius
  • Seems very drowsy
  • Has a sunken chest or fontanelle
  • Appears to be dehydrated
  • Is wheezing
  • Has flaring nostrils as he struggles to breathe
  • Is under three months old
  • Has an underlying health condition
  • Was premature
  • Has a weakened immune system

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What are the symptoms of Bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis symptoms a runny nose, lots of catarrh and a cough. As the illness progresses, though, you might notice your baby or child developing a slightly raised temperature. He might also have a more troublesome, dry cough and may also be reluctant to feed, probably because he's having trouble breathing through his nose. His heart might seem to be racing and he might be taking fast, shallow breaths.

What are the treatments and remedies of Bronchiolitis?

Your baby won't usually be prescribed any medication for bronchiolitis because it's usually a viral illness. Although it's distressing to see your baby suffering, make sure you offer plenty of breastfeeds or, if you are formula feeding, extra drinks of cooled, boiled water to keep him hydrated. Keep his temperature down by giving him paracetamol or ibuprofen. The infection usually lasts about two weeks. It's not unusual for a baby to suffer with two bouts of bronchiolitis in one season.

This guide 

The information in this Bounty A-Z of Family Health is not a substitute for an examination, diagnosis or treatment by a doctor, midwife, health visitor or any other qualified health professional. If in doubt, always speak to a doctor.

Bounty will not be held responsible or liable for any injury, loss, damage, or illness, however this occurs or appears, after using the information given on this website and in particular the A-Z of Family Health.

Further help

For health advice and information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the NHS offers call and web services. You can also visit NHS websites for services, health information and health news at nhs.uk 

  • England – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs.uk 
  • Scotland – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs24.com 
  • Wales – call 0845 4647 , or visit nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk 
  • Northern Ireland – visit hscni.net