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Bronchiolitis is an
infection of the
bronchioles, the small air passages in the lungs. It
is common in infants and is the leading cause of serious lower
Bronchiolitis is caused by a virus,
respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and frequently
occurs in the late fall to early spring.
Symptoms of bronchiolitis include runny nose,
cough, and fever. After a few days, your child may experience shortness of
breath and/or breathing that is rapid and labored with wheezing.
severe infection in infants may cause a noticeably increased breathing rate.
For information on what to do if your child has trouble breathing, see the
Respiratory Problems, Age 11 and Younger.
If your child has heart disease or was born prematurely, call your
doctor at the first sign of bronchiolitis.
Symptoms of bronchiolitis are the worst in the first 5 days. Most children get better in 1 to 2 weeks.
A doctor may diagnose bronchiolitis based on a medical history, your
child's symptoms, and a physical exam. Testing is usually not needed if your
doctor suspects the bronchiolitis is caused by RSV.
Home treatment to manage the
bronchiolitis is usually all that is needed. Have your
child drink plenty of liquids to avoid
dehydration. If your baby has a stuffy nose, use a
suction bulb to remove
mucus. Fever medicine (such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen) may help reduce fever discomfort. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20 because of the risk of
Reye syndrome, a serious illness. Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines are not
recommended. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
doctor may suggest
bronchodilator medicine if your child has shown the
tendency to have allergic reactions (atopy). In
severe cases, your child may need to stay in the hospital or get extra
It is common for children to get respiratory
problems (such as bronchiolitis caused by a viral infection), because they are
often exposed to people who have infections to which they have not built up
immunity. Bronchiolitis is spread just like a cold. To
If your child was born early (prematurely), has heart or
lung disease, or has other conditions that make it more likely to have problems
from RSV, ask the doctor if palivizumab (Synagis) might help. This medicine
helps prevent bronchiolitis and other problems from RSV in children most likely
to have problems (susceptible). It is injected once a
month during RSV season—late fall to early spring.
This American Academy of Pediatrics website has information for parents about childhood issues, from before the child is born to young adulthood. You'll find information on child growth and development, immunizations, safety, health issues, behavior, and much more.
Other Works Consulted
Bourke T, Shields M (2011). Bronchiolitis, search date July 2010. BMJ Clinical Evidence. Available online: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
Federico MJ, et al. (2011). Respiratory tract and mediastinum. In WW Hay et al., eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment: Pediatrics, 20th ed., pp. 487–535. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Gadomski AM, Brower M (2010). Bronchodilators for bronchiolitis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (12).
Hall CB, McBride JT (2010). Bronchiolitis. In GL Mandell et al., eds., Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, 7th ed., vol. 1, pp. 885–889. Philadelphia: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.
Hayden FG and Ison MG (2006). Respiratory viral
infections. In DC Dale, DD Federman, eds., ACP Medicine,
section 7, chap. 25. New York: WebMD.
Seiden JA (2009). Bronchiolitis: An evidence-based approach to management. Clinical Pediatric Emergency Medicine, 10(2): 75–81.
Subcommittee on Diagnosis and Management of
Bronchiolitis, American Academy of Pediatrics (2006). Diagnosis and management
of bronchiolitis. Pediatrics, 118(4):
Welliver RC (2009). Bronchiolitis and infectious asthma. In RD Feigin et al., eds., Feigin and Cherry's Textbook of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, 6th ed., vol. 1, pp. 277–288. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
Zore JJ, Hall CB (2010). Bronchiolitis: Recent evidence on diagnosis and management. Pediatrics, 125(2): 342–349.
Current as of:
December 6, 2013
Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
& John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
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