Bronchiolitis is an infection of
the lungs. It’s when your child has swelling in the smaller airways (bronchioles) of the
lung. This swelling blocks air in the smaller airways.
Bronchiolitis usually happens in the winter and early spring. It most often affects children younger than 2 years old.
The most common cause of bronchiolitis is a virus. At first, the virus causes an infection in the upper respiratory tract. This includes the nose, mouth, and throat. It then spreads downward into the windpipe (trachea) and lungs (lower respiratory tract). The virus causes inflammation and even death of the cells inside the respiratory tract. This blocks airflow in and out of the child’s lungs.
Bronchiolitis is most often caused by the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). But these other viruses can also cause it:
In rare cases, bronchiolitis may be
caused by bacteria.
All young children are at risk for bronchiolitis. The illness can spread easily through droplets in the air from coughing, sneezing, and talking. But some children have a higher chance of developing it. These are children who:
Bronchiolitis may at first be mistaken for a common cold. It starts out with many of the same symptoms. But your child may have a cough and other breathing problems that get worse over time. Below are the most common symptoms of bronchiolitis:
These symptoms often last about a
week. They may look like other health problems. Make sure your child sees his or her
healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Your child’s healthcare provider can diagnose bronchiolitis with a health history and physical exam of your child. In some cases, your child may need tests to rule out other diseases, such as pneumonia or asthma. These tests include:
Treatment will depend on your
child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the
Most cases are mild and can be
treated at home. There is no cure for the illness. So the goal of treatment is to ease
symptoms. Antibiotics are not used unless your child has a bacterial infection.
Some babies with severe breathing
problems are treated in the hospital. While they are in the hospital, treatment may
If your child is at home, the
following treatment may be helpful:
Don’t give aspirin or medicine that contains aspirin to a child
younger than age 19 unless directed by your child’s provider. Taking aspirin can put
your child at risk for Reye syndrome. This is a rare but very serious disorder. It most
often affects the brain and the liver.
Most children who have bronchiolitis will get well without any problems. But those born early or who have other health problems are more likely to have complications from the condition. These may include:
You can help prevent the spread of bronchiolitis. Wash your hands or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner before and after touching your child. While your child has symptoms, keep him or her away from other children.
Your child may also need a
palivizumab shot. During RSV season, these shots are recommended for high-risk babies.
High-risk babies include those born early or those with lung, heart, or immune system
diseases. Talk with your child’s healthcare provider to see if the shot is right for
Call if your child:
Call your child’s healthcare
provider right away if your child’s symptoms get worse, or if he or she:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider: