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Bronchiolitis is an infection caused by a virus. It affects the lower part of the lungs. Bronchiolitis is common in babies, but it can happen in children up to age 2 years. Bronchiolitis makes the small airways that carry air to the lungs (bronchioles) swell and make more mucous. The bronchioles become narrow, which causes wheezing, lots of coughing, and trouble breathing.
The most common virus that causes bronchiolitis is RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). RSV infections tend to happen between November and April each year, with a peak in January and February. Your child can get an RSV infection more than once. In older children and adults, RSV causes a common cold rather than bronchiolitis.
At first, your child may have common cold symptoms, including:
About 1 to 3 days after cold symptoms start, the infection can cause bronchiolitis symptoms such as:
Bronchiolitis can be more serious in some children, especially if they:
Take your child to a doctor if they have any symptoms of bronchiolitis.
A doctor may diagnose bronchiolitis by asking your child's medical history and checking their symptoms. Your child probably won’t need tests if they have typical bronchiolitis symptoms.
Bronchiolitis happens the same way in most children. Symptoms tend to get worse until day 4 or 5, and then they slowly get better. Most children feel better in 1 to 2 weeks. But some children have a cough that lasts a few weeks. If your child has bronchiolitis, you can usually take care of them at home. There is no medicine for bronchiolitis. Antibiotics do not work because bronchiolitis is caused by a virus.Care at Home: Coughing
Eating and drinking:
Fever and discomfort:
In Hospital When bronchiolitis is very bad, your child may need to stay in the hospital for a few days. Doctors and nurses will do many things to help your child breathe and keep them comfortable, including:
Bronchiolitis spreads easily (it’s very contagious) through close contact with someone who’s sick and is coughing or sneezing around you. Touching toys or sharing food with someone who’s sick can spread the virus. Children with bronchiolitis are contagious for almost a week after they first get sick. Keep your child at home if they’re coughing a lot. To prevent bronchiolitis:
Palivizumab (Synagis) is a medicine that can help prevent bronchiolitis and other problems in children with a high risk of getting very sick from RSV. Ask your doctor about this medicine if your child:
To learn more about bronchiolitis, see the following resources:
Other Works ConsultedBourke 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).Ralston S, et al. (2014). Clinical practice guideline: The diagnosis, management, and prevention of bronchiolitis. Pediatrics, 134(5): e1474–e1502. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2014-2742. Accessed October 28, 2014.Seiden JA (2009). Bronchiolitis: An evidence-based approach to management. Clinical Pediatric Emergency Medicine, 10(2): 75–81.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.
Adaptation Date: 9/13/2021
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
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