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What is bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis (say: "bronk-ee-oh-lie-tus") is a lung infection that can be caused by several kinds of viruses. Young children, particularly those between 3 months and 6 months old, get this illness in the winter and the early spring. Most children are sick for about a week to 10 days and then get well.


What are the symptoms of bronchiolitis?

At first, the symptoms of bronchiolitis may resemble the symptoms of a common cold. Your child will probably have a runny nose and a slight fever for 2 to 3 days. Then your child may begin to cough, breathe fast and wheeze (make a high-pitched whistling sound when breathing) for another 2 or 3 days.

When should I call the doctor?

Call your doctor if:

  • Your child is vomiting and can't keep liquids down.
  • Your child is breathing very fast, more than 40 breaths in 1 minute.
  • You can see your child's skin pull in between the ribs with each breath or your child has to sit up to be able to breathe.
  • Your child has had heart disease or was born prematurely. In this case, call the doctor at the first signs of this illness.

If your child's skin develops a bluish color, especially around the lips or in the fingertips, it may be a sign that he or she is not getting enough oxygen. Seek medical care or go to the emergency room right away.


Will my other children catch bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis is spread just like a cold, through close contact with saliva or mucus, but older children usually don't get as sick as younger children do.

You can help prevent spreading this disease by keeping your sick child home until the cough is almost gone. Make sure to wash your hands after you take care of your sick child to avoid spreading the virus to others.


What can I do to help my child feel better?

There are some things you can do when your child has bronchiolitis:

  • Give your child plenty of liquids. Don't worry if he or she doesn't feel like eating solid foods.
  • Use a cool-mist vaporizer in the bedroom while your child is sleeping.
  • If your child is coughing hard and having trouble breathing, run hot water in the shower or bathtub to steam up the bathroom and sit in there with your child.
  • Check with your doctor if it is okay to give your child acetaminophen (some brand names: Children's or Infants' Tylenol) if he or she has a fever. Don't give your child aspirin. Aspirin has been associated with Reye's syndrome, a rare disease of the brain and liver.

What will my doctor do for my child?

Your doctor will check your child for signs of dehydration (not enough liquids in his or her body). Your doctor will also check to see if your child is getting enough oxygen and may want to check your child for pneumonia. Sometimes, doctors give children a liquid medicine to help with the cough. Your doctor may want to see your child again in 24 hours.

If your child is really working hard to breathe, your doctor may suggest putting him or her in the hospital. Your child can get extra oxygen while in the hospital. Your child can also get extra liquids through the veins (intravenous fluids), which will help prevent dehydration.


Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • How can I make my child more comfortable?
  • How long will my child be contagious?
  • Should I isolate my child from my other children as long as he/she is sick?
  • How long should I keep my child home from daycare?
  • If my child's symptoms get worse, when should I call my doctor?
  • My child has asthma. Could this trigger an asthma attack?
  • Will a nebulizer help my child?
  • Are there any medicines I can give my child?