What you need to know

  • Bronchiolitis spreads easily and affects the lungs and breathing in young children and babies.
  • There is no medication for bronchiolitis, since it's caused by a virus. Antibiotics won't help.
  • Most kids get better without any special treatment, but young babies can get sick quickly so if your child is having trouble breathing or you're worried, take them to your doctor immediately. 
  • Take your baby to the doctor if they're under three months old and you think they may have bronchiolitis. 

What is bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis is a viral illness that affects the bronchioles (the smallest airways in the lungs) in babies and young children. The illness is common in the spring and winter months.

Symptoms

The virus often starts as a cold, with a runny nose. Your child may also have the following symptoms:

  • difficulty breathing
  • fast breathing 
  • extra effort to breathe
  • noisy breathing (wheezing) 
  • fever 
  • cough (often lasts for 10-14 days, but can last up to a month) 

The second or third day of the illness is usually the worst.

Prevention

Bronchiolitis is easy to catch and can spread between children or from adults to children. You can help prevent the illness through:

  • proper hand-washing
  • having a smoke-free environment
  • keeping your house warm 
  • keeping your distance from people who are sick.

Taking care of a child with bronchiolitis

Read general information on how to take care of a sick child. 

Feeding 

Your baby’s cough and breathing problems can make it hard for them to feed. They may need extra feeds to make sure they’re getting enough to eat.

If your baby is too sleepy to feed or isn't waking for feeds, this may be a sign that they should see a doctor.  

Assess your baby’s breathing 

Lift up your baby’s top to watch their chest and assess their breathing. Watch to see: 

  • how fast their breathing is 
  • how much extra effort they need to make to breath 
  • if they are using chest and tummy muscles to breath more than normal 
  • listen to their wheeze and its severity.

If your pēpē is having trouble breathing (breathing fast, noisy breathing, severe wheeze, or is using extra effort to breathe) take them to the doctor.

When to visit a doctor

You should see your family doctor urgently if your baby: 

  • is under three months old 
  • is having trouble breathing (breathing fast, has noisy breathing, a severe wheeze, or is using extra effort to breathe) 
  • looks pale and unwell 
  • has a bluish colour to the lips and skin 
  • is taking less than half of their normal feeds  
  • is more sleepy than usual  
  • is not waking for feeds, or is having trouble feeding because they are struggling to breathe 
  • is vomiting 
  • is having less wet nappies.

Babies with bronchiolitis can become sick very quickly, even if you've just seen a doctor. If your child seems worse or is not improving, call PlunketLine or your doctor. 

Bronchiolitis

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