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All About Bronchiolitis: Symptoms and Treatment

All About Bronchiolitis: Symptoms and Treatment


Causes and Risk Factors

To better understand bronchiolitis symptoms and treatment, it helps to define what causes this condition.

Bronchiolitis is a lung infection that is common in infants and children. In this condition, there is congestion and inflammation in the lung’s small airways, which are called bronchioles.

What Causes Bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis is typically caused by viruses.

When a virus infects the bronchioles, it causes bronchiolitis, which causes swelling and inflammation. Mucus then collects in the bronchioles, making it difficult to breathe.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the most common virus that causes bronchiolitis. Many children often get this virus by the time they are 2 years old.

bronchiolitis symptoms and treatment

RSV outbreaks usually occur in colder months. However, the previous infection does not seem to create immunity, so a person can get reinfected with RSV.

Additionally, other viruses can cause bronchiolitis, such as the ones that cause the common cold or the flu (trangkaso).

RSV can spread easily. For example, you can contract RSV from droplets in the air when an infected child talks, sneezes, or coughs. Touching shared objects like toys, towels, or utensils then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes can also make a person catch RSV.

Who is More Likely to Get Bronchiolitis?

Kids who are 2 years old and below have a high chance of getting bronchiolitis. Adults may get bronchiolitis, as well, in rare instances.

Children who are 3 months old and below are more at risk of getting bronchiolitis. That is because their immune systems and lungs are still developing.

However, other factors can increase a person’s risk of getting bronchiolitis and may have more severe cases of bronchiolitis. Some examples of other factors may include:

  • Depressed immune system
  • Underlying lung or heart condition
  • Premature birth
  • Not being breastfed as a baby
  • Tobacco smoke exposure
  • People who live in your home that attend school and may bring the infection home
  • Being in crowded environments

Bronchiolitis Symptoms and Treatment

Bronchiolitis symptoms will be similar to the common cold for the first few days of infection followed by symptoms of lung involvement. The initial symptoms may include symptoms may include:

  • A slight fever (may not always be present)
  • Cough
  • Stuffy nose
  • Runny nose

Your child may experience wheezing (a whistling noise when your child breathes out) or have difficulty breathing after a week of having the symptoms above.

Additionally, many infants have the chance of getting an ear infection. They may have inflammation in their middle ear, which is called otitis media. Around 80% of children may get this infection when they become 3 years old.

Treatment for Bronchiolitis

There is no medicine specifically made to kill RSV. However, most cases of bronchiolitis can be treated at home until the infection passes.

Offering plenty of fluids, such as water, may help your child and prevent them from becoming dehydrated. Breastmilk if infants are still being breastfed.

If your child or baby is experiencing a fever, it would be best to ask a medical professional what medicine you should give them.


Aside from knowing bronchiolitis symptoms and treatment, it’s important to know how to prevent it in the first place.

Avoiding smoking and exposing your child to secondhand smoke. Avoiding smoking at home, especially near your child, could help prevent the risk of them contracting RSV.

Limiting contact with people who are sick, especially for children and infants, can help prevent your child from being exposed to virus that can cause bronchiolitis. Items that are frequently touched, like books or toys, ought to be cleaned and disinfected.

Washing your hands and your child’s especially before touching you nose, mouth and eyes, could also help. You may also carry an alcohol-based sanitizer to use whenever you touch items while you or your child are outside.

As for vaccinations, there are none currently available to prevent RSV. However, a child over 6 months old may get an annual flu shot.

Infants have a higher risk of contracting bronchiolitis. If the baby has a depressed immune system, has a lung or heart condition, or was born prematurely, it’s best to ask your doctor for the appropriate medication and treatment.

When Should I See a Doctor about Bronchiolitis?

Most cases of bronchiolitis are mild, but if your child is under 12 weeks old and has a higher risk of severe bronchiolitis, you may need to see a doctor.

Here are some other signs that may signal your child may need to see a doctor:

  • Fingernails, skin, and/or lips become blue
  • Refusing to drink fluids
  • Breathing too rapidly to drink or eat
  • Lethargic or sluggish appearance
  • Labored breathing
  • Shallow and rapid breathing (about 60 breaths per minute)
  • Very audible wheezing sounds


Severe bronchiolitis can cause some complications and those may include the following:

  • Respiratory failure and low oxygen levels
  • Dehydration
  • Apnea, which is pauses in breathing. It is more common to see in babies who are 2 months old or younger and premature babies

Your child may have to go to the hospital if any of the symptoms above occur. A tube may have to be inserted into their windpipe if severe respiratory failure occurs to help your child breathe until the infection is gone.

It would be ideal to look for early signs of bronchiolitis if your baby has got a depressed immune system, has a lung or heart condition, or was born prematurely.

Your child may need hospitalization because the infection can become severe quickly.

Key Takeaways

For most children, they may get over bronchiolitis with enough fluids and rest. However, if you think your child has any severe symptoms or a risk of getting severe bronchiolitis, it would be best to give them immediate medical attention.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Bronchiolitis Treatment https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/bronchiolitis/treatment/ Accessed August 27, 2020 Sleep Apnea https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/sleep-apnea Accessed August 27, 2020 Bronchiolitis https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/8272-bronchiolitis Accessed August 27, 2020 RSV in Infants and Adults https://www.cdc.gov/rsv/index.html#:~:text=Respiratory%20syncytial%20(sin%2DSISH%2D,for%20infants%20and%20older%20adults Accessed August 27, 2020 Otitis Media: Middle Ear Infection https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=otitis-media-middle-ear-infection-90-P02057 Accessed August 27, 2020 Breastfeeding, The Immune Response, and Long-term Health https://jaoa.org/article.aspx?articleid=2093315 Accessed August 27, 2020 Smoking and Respiratory Diseases https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/sgr/50th-anniversary/pdfs/fs_smoking_respiratory_508.pdf Accessed August 27, 2020
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Written by Tracey Romero Updated Feb 22, 2021
Medically reviewed by Ika Villanueva Caperonce, MD
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