• Reference Number: HEY-857/2017
  • Departments: Emergency Department


This leaflet has been produced to give you general information about your child’s condition.  Most of your questions should be answered by this leaflet.  It is not intended to replace the discussion between you and your doctor, but may act as a starting point for discussion.  If after reading it you have any concerns or require further explanation, please discuss this with a member of the healthcare team caring for you.

What is bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis is an infection of the small airways of the lung. It is a common infection in babies and children under 2 years old. It is caused by a virus, often the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is spread through tiny droplets of liquid from the coughs or sneezes of someone who is infected. RSV causes the airways to become swollen and full of mucus. In adults and older children, RSV is a common cause of colds.

Symptoms of bronchiolitis

The early symptoms of bronchiolitis are similar to those of a common cold, such as a runny nose and cough. Further symptoms then usually develop over the next few days and include a high temperature, a dry and persistent cough, difficulty feeding and rapid or noisy breathing (wheezing).

How is bronchiolitis treated?

Bronchiolitis is caused by a virus and so antibiotics do not help. It is a self-limiting illness, which means it will go away as the immune system clears the virus. There is no medicine which will kill the virus. Many types of treatment have been tried over the years. Unfortunately research has shown that they do not make a difference to the course of the illness. Most affected babies are not seriously ill and will make a full recovery at home. About 3 in 100 babies are admitted to hospital for extra oxygen, help with their breathing or help with feeding.

What can I do to help my baby?

  • Breathing may be easier for your baby if he or she sleeps with the head of the cot slightly raised (raise the mattress slightly by placing a pillow underneath the mattress).
  • Make sure your child gets enough fluid. Smaller, more frequent feeds are sometimes best.
  • Give children’s paracetamol/ibuprofen to bring down their temperature if required.
  • Make sure your baby is not exposed to tobacco smoke, which can make breathing problems like bronchiolitis worse.

Contact your GP


  • You are worried about your child.
  • They are having difficulty breathing.
  • Your baby is taking less than half his or her usual feeds over 2 to 3 feeds, or has no wet nappy for 12 hours.
  • Your baby has a high temperature.
  • Your baby seems very tired or irritable.

Call 999


  • Your baby is having a lot of difficulty breathing and is pale or sweaty.
  • Your baby’s tongue and lips are turning blue.
  • There are long pauses in your baby’s breathing.

How can I prevent bronchiolitis?

  • Wash your hands and your child’s hands frequently.
  • Wash or wipe toys and surfaces frequently.
  • Keep infected children at home until their symptoms have improved.
  • Keep newborn babies away from people with colds or flu.
  • Prevent your child being exposed to tobacco smoke.

Should you require further advice on the issues contained in this leaflet, please call NHS 111.

Under the General Data Protection Regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018 we are responsible for maintaining the confidentiality of any information we hold about your child. For further information visit the following page: Confidential Information about You.

If you need information about your child’s health and well-being and about your child’s care and treatment in a different format, such as large print, braille or audio, due to disability, impairment or sensory loss, please advise a member of staff and this can be arranged.