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Bronchiolitis in Children: Care Instructions

Child's respiratory system and lungs

Overview

Bronchiolitis is a common lung illness in babies and very young children. It’s caused by a virus, usually respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Bronchiolitis happens when the small airways that carry air to the lungs (bronchioles) swell and make more mucous. The bronchioles become narrow, making it harder for your child to breathe. This can make your child cough, wheeze, and have troubling breathing.

Bronchiolitis can start like a cold. At first, your child may have a runny, stuffed-up nose and a cough. They may have a fever in the first few days. Bronchiolitis symptoms tend to get worse until day 4 or 5. Then symptoms slowly get better. Most children feel better in 1 to 2 weeks. But some children have a cough that lasts a few weeks.

Antibiotics do not help bronchiolitis get better, because bronchiolitis is caused by a virus.
Most of the time, you can take care of your child at home. But if your child is not getting better or has a hard time breathing, they may need to be in a hospital.

To learn more about bronchiolitis, see the following resources:
The ECHO research program at echokt.ca/tools/bronchiolitis has an award-winning video as well as an infographic and an ebook about bronchiolitis.
The Alberta Health Services HEAL (Health Education and Learning) program has a printable handout about bronchiolitis (go to ahs.ca and search “HEAL bronchiolitis”).

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to book and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or or Health Link at 811 if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

Coughing

  • A cool-mist humidifier in your child's room can help with their cough. Follow the directions for using the humidifier, and keep it out of reach of children.
  • Cough medicine isn’t good for young children. Do not give cough medicine to children younger than 6 years.
  • Don’t smoke, use other tobacco products, or vape around your child. Second-hand smoke can put children at higher risk of infections.


Stuffy nose:

  • Saltwater nose sprays (like Hydrasense) can help loosen mucous in the nose. Spray or drop salt water into each nostril. Then suck out the mucous with a nasal aspirator. Talk to your pharmacist to find the right products for your child. Don’t make your own saltwater solution at home.
  • Clean your child’s nose before feeds and bedtime, or as often as they need during the day.


Eating and drinking:

  • Babies younger than 6 months should continue to feed (breast or bottle) as usual. Keep track of how many wet diapers they make.
  • Encourage your child to drink fluids.
Your child may not want to drink like they usually do, but continue to offer small amounts of fluids throughout the day so they stay hydrated (so their body has enough water).


Fever and discomfort:

  • You may give acetaminophen (like Tylenol or Tempra) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) to keep your child comfortable. Follow the directions on the package or the directions from your healthcare provider.
  • Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 18 because of the risk of Reye syndrome, a serious illness.

How can you prevent it from spreading?

Children with bronchiolitis can spread the virus (are contagious) for almost a week after they first get sick. Keep your child at home if they’re coughing a lot or having trouble breathing.

  • If your child is sick, keep them away from babies younger than 3 months as much as possible.
  • Don’t share toys or food with someone who is sick.
  • Wash your hands often to stop the virus from spreading. Teach your child to wash their hands before and after eating, coughing, or sneezing.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care.

Call your doctor or Health Link at 811 or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has more breathing problems or is breathing faster.
  • You can see your child's skin around the ribs or the neck (or both) sink in deeply when they breathe in.
  • Your child's breathing problems make it hard to eat or drink.
  • Your child's face, hands, and feet look a little grey or purple.
  • Your child has a new or higher fever.
  • Your child is not making very many wet diapers.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

Enter L919 in the search box to learn more about "Bronchiolitis in Children: Care Instructions".

Adapted with permission from copyrighted materials from Healthwise, Incorporated (Healthwise). This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty and is not responsible or liable for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.