• What is bronchiolitis?

    Nicole Lowe | January 2, 2023

    Bronchiolitis is an infection caused by a virus. It affects the lower part of the lungs. Bronchiolitis
    is common in babies, but it can happen in children up to age two years.

    Bronchiolitis makes the small airways that carry air to the lungs (bronchioles) swell and make
    more mucous. The bronchioles become narrow, which causes wheezing, lots of coughing, and
    trouble breathing.

    What causes it?
    The most common virus that causes bronchiolitis is RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). Your child
    can get an RSV infection more than once. In older children and adults, RSV causes a common
    cold rather than bronchiolitis.

    What are the symptoms?
    At first, your child may have common cold symptoms, including:
    • Runny nose.
    • Mild cough.
    • Fever.
    • Low energy.
    • Eating less than normal.

    About one to three days after cold symptoms start, the infection can cause bronchiolitis
    symptoms such as:

    • A cough that’s getting worse.
    • Lots of coughing.
    • Wheezing.
    • Fast breathing.
    • Indrawing (when the skin gets sucked in at the neck, collarbones, or between the ribs
    with each breath).
    • Throwing up after coughing.
    • Trouble feeding (breast or bottle), especially for babies younger than six months.
    • Fewer wet diapers.

    Bronchiolitis can be more serious in some children, especially if they:
    • Were born early (premature, before 34 weeks).
    • Are younger than 3 months.
    • Have a history of asthma or lung problems.
    • Have a history of heart problems.

    Take your child to a doctor if they have any symptoms of bronchiolitis.

    How is it diagnosed?
    A doctor may diagnose bronchiolitis by asking your child's medical history and checking their
    symptoms. Your child probably won’t need tests if they have typical bronchiolitis symptoms.

    How is bronchiolitis treated?
    Bronchiolitis happens the same way in most children. Symptoms tend to get worse until day four
    or five, and then they slowly get better. Most children feel better in one to two weeks. But some
    children have a cough that lasts a few weeks.

    If your child has bronchiolitis, you can usually take care of them at home. There is no medicine
    for bronchiolitis. Antibiotics do not work because bronchiolitis is caused by a virus.

    Care at Home:

    • Keep your child sitting or propped up instead of lying down, because it’s easier to
    breathe in this position. A cool-mist humidifier in your child's room can help with their
    cough. Follow the directions for using the humidifier and keep it out of reach of children.
    • Cough medicine isn’t good for young children. Do not give cough medicine to children
    younger than six years.
    Stuffy nose:
    • Clean out your child’s nose to make breathing and feeding easier.
    • Try saltwater nose sprays (such as Hydrasense) to help loosen mucous in the nose.
    Spray or drop salt water into each nostril. Then suck out the mucous with a nasal
    aspirator. Talk to your pharmacist to find the right products for your child. Don’t make
    your own saltwater solution at home.
    • Clean your child’s nose before feeds and bedtime, and as often as they need during the

    Eating and drinking:
    • Encourage your child to drink fluids. Your child may not want to drink like they usually do
    but keep offering small amounts of fluids throughout the day so they stay hydrated (so
    their body has enough water).
    • Babies younger than six months should continue to feed (breast or bottle) as usual.
    Keep track of how many wet diapers they make.
    • Your child may not want to eat food when they’re sick, and that’s OK.
    Fever and discomfort:
    • You may give acetaminophen (such as Tylenol or Tempra) or ibuprofen (such as Advil or
    Motrin) to keep your child comfortable. Follow the directions on the package or the
    directions from your healthcare provider.
    • Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 18 years because of the risk of Reye
    syndrome, a serious illness.

    How can you prevent it?
    Bronchiolitis spreads easily (it’s very contagious) through close contact with someone who’s
    sick and is coughing or sneezing around you. Touching toys or sharing food with someone
    who’s sick can spread the virus. Children with bronchiolitis are contagious for almost a week
    after they first get sick. Keep your child at home if they’re coughing a lot.

    To prevent bronchiolitis:
    • If your child has bronchiolitis, keep them at home until they feel better.
    • Keep a child with bronchiolitis away from young babies (under three months) as much as
    • Wash your hands often to stop the virus from spreading. Teach your child to wash their
    hands before and after eating, coughing, or sneezing.
    • Don't smoke, use other tobacco products, or vape around your child. Second-hand
    smoke can put children at higher risk of infections.

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