What is bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis is a viral infection that affects the small airways of the lungs.

It occurs in children under the age of one year, with highest incidence in winter months. The severity of symptoms varies but most children are not seriously unwell, and make a complete recovery on their own.

Babies at high risk of more severe illness include those born prematurely or who have other lung or heart conditions.

What symptoms will my child show?

Symptoms start off as runny nose, mild fever, cough, blocked nose and ear infection.

After three to five days, symptoms may get worse. The cough may deteriorate, and breathing get faster with an increase in the effort to breathe. There may be noisy breathing (a wheeze).

As breathing becomes more difficult, your baby may not be able to take the usual amount of milk feeds, and you may notice fewer wet nappies than usual.

How is it treated?

Antibiotics do not help with bronchiolitis as it is a viral illness.

If your child is very unwell they may need help with their feeding and breathing in hospital.

Can I prevent the infection?

No. The virus that causes bronchiolitis in babies also causes coughs and colds in older children and adults making it difficult to prevent.

It spreads by droplets in the air through sneezing and coughing as well as physical contact.

Simple actions that can minimise the spread of infection to your baby include:

  • Frequent hand washing before handling baby
  • Use a tissue when you cough or sneeze and dispose of the tissue immediately
  • Keep the baby away from other people with coughs and colds. Avoid crowded environments in high risk babies

How can I help my baby at home?

  • Do not smoke around your child as it worsens breathing problems
  • Raise the head of the cot slightly to assist your child’s breathing
  • Give small but frequent feeds
  • Give your child infant paracetamol, such as Calpol, or ibuprofen liquid, such as Calprofen or Neurofen, to reduce their fever if distressed. Please follow manufacturer’s guidelines.

Will it happen again?

Occasionally babies can have bronchiolitis again during their first year.

Are there any long-term effects?

Usually no, though there is an increased risk of asthma developing at a later date in some cases. Most babies are back to normal within two weeks or so.

Your baby may have a cough and remain chesty and wheezy for some time, but this will resolve gradually. Your baby can go back to nursery or day care as soon as he or she is well enough.

Call your GP if:

  • you are worried about your baby
  • your baby is having difficulty breathing
  • your baby is taking less than half their usual feeds over two to three feeds, or has no wet nappy for 12 hours
  • your baby has a high temperature

Dial 999 for an ambulance if:

  • your baby is having a lot of difficulty breathing and is pale or sweaty
  • your baby’s tongue and lips are turning blue
  • there are long pauses in your baby’s breathing

If you have any questions or concerns, contact

Paediatric Assessment Unit (PAU) (9am-9pm)
Telephone: 01935 384 788

Children’s Ward (9pm-9am)
Telephone: 01935 384 360

If you need this information in another format, eg. large print or a different language, please ask a member of staff.

Ref: 10-16-107
Review: 11/18