Bronchiolitis is an inflammation in the lungs. It affects the small breathing tubes. It is most common in children under 2 years of age. Children tend to get better after a few days. But in some cases, it can lead to severe illness. So a child with this lung infection must be treated and watched carefully.Girl sitting up in bed, coughing.

What is bronchiolitis?

Bronchiiolitis is an infection that involves the small breathing tubes of the lungs. The most common cause is the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) but it can be caused by other viruses. The virus causes the bronchioles (very small breathing tubes in the lungs) to become inflamed, swollen, and filled with fluid. In small children this can lead to difficulties breathing and feeding. The symptoms start out like those of a common cold. They include stuffy and runny nose, sneezing, and a mild cough. Over a few days, your child may develop wheezing, trouble breathing, and a fever.

Treating bronchiolitis

Antibiotics are not used to treat bronchiolitis unless a bacterial infection is present. Your child's health care provider may prescribe saline nose drops to help clear the mucus. In severe cases, your child may need to stay in the hospital. He or she may get intravenous (IV) fluids, oxygen, and breathing treatments.

Preventing the spread

The viruses that caused bronchiolitis spread easily. They can be spread through touching, coughing, or sneezing. To help stop the spread of infection:

  • Alcohol-based hand cleaners are recommended. Or, wash your hands with warm water and soap often.  Do it before and after touching your child.

  • Keep your child away from other children while he or she is sick.

When to seek medical care

Call your healthcare provider right away if your child:

  • Gets worse

  • Has a deep, harsh-sounding cough

  • Breathes faster than normal, has trouble breathing, or has wheezing or a whistling sound with breathing

  • Is very sleepy or weak

  • Is an infant under 3 months with a rectal temperature of 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher

  • Is a child of any age who has a repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher

  • Has a fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under 2 years old, or for 3 days in a child 2 years older

  • Has had a seizure caused by the fever