What is Bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis is an infection that affects the bronchioles (small tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs). When these tubes get infected, they get swollen and full of mucus. This makes it hard for your child to breathe.

Who Can Catch Bronchiolitis?

Children under age 2 are more likely to catch bronchiolitis because their airways are smaller. Their airways also become blocked more easily than in older children.

What Causes Bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis is usually caused by a virus called respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

What Are the Symptoms of Bronchiolitis?

Early on, bronchiolitis symptoms look like a regular cold with a stuffy nose, fever, mild cough and not breast or bottle feeding as much as usual or not eating well.

As bronchiolitis gets worse, other symptoms can show up, including:

  • Breathing fast or having trouble breathing (In babies, the first sign can be a pause between breaths that lasts longer than 15-20 seconds)
  • Wheezing (a whistling sound) while breathing in that usually lasts for 1 week
  • A severe (very bad) cough that can last longer than 2 weeks
  • Trouble eating and drinking

Can Other People Catch Brochiolitis?

Yes. Other people can catch the viruses that cause bronchiolitis through coughing and sneezing.

How is Bronchiolitis Treated?

Most of the time, you can care for your child at home without visiting the doctor. Make sure your child can breathe easily and is drinking plenty of fluids.

If your child is not getting better or has trouble breathing, they need to see a doctor.

What Can I Do To Help My Child Feel Better?

  • Encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids.
  • It may be helpful to sleep in the same room as your child so you can check if they have trouble breathing.
  • Use a humidifier in your child’s room. A humidifier helps bring moisture into the air. The extra moisture can help open your child’s airways and help them cough less.
  • If your child is uncomfortable because of a fever, give over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Motrin® or Advil®).
  • Suction the extra mucus out of your child’s nose with a suction bulb.
  • Do not smoke or let anyone else smoke around your child.
  • Do not give aspirin to your child. Aspirin is dangerous for children under age 18.

What Can I Expect As My Child Recovers?

The wheezing and trouble breathing will usually be worse for the first 3-5 days before getting better. Your child’s cough usually lasts around 2 weeks.

How Can I Prevent Bronchiolitis?

  • Clean your hands and your child’s hands often with soap and water or hand sanitizer. This helps prevent germs from spreading.
  • Stay away from other adults and children who are sick.
  • Have your child and your family get a flu vaccine every year.
  • Do not smoke or let anyone else smoke around your child.

When Should My Child See The Doctor?

Call the doctor if:

  • Your child’s stomach or ribs look like they are caving in
  • Their nostrils flare (get wider)
  • Your baby is younger than 3 months and has a fever higher than 100.4°F (38°C) at any point
  • Your baby is older than 3 months and has a fever higher than 100.4°F (38°C) for more than 3 days
  • Your baby has fewer than 4 wet diapers in 24 hours

When Should I Call 911?

Call 911 or go to your closest emergency room if your child:

  • Stops breathing
  • Starts to turn blue and very pale
  • Starts grunting (making a loud sound when breathing out)
  • Looks like they are getting tired of working hard to breathe

Rev. 6/2020. MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Massachusetts General Hospital do not endorse any of the brands listed on this handout. This handout is intended to provide health information so that you can be better informed. It is not a substitute for medical advice and should not be used to treatment of any medical conditions.