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Bronchiolitis Symptoms And Treatment In Babies

By Dr. Arvind Shenoi

Bronchiolitis is a common chest infection in babies and infants. It usually occurs in babies under 6 months, but sometimes goes up to 12 months of age.

It is caused by a virus which predominantly causes inflammation of the small air pipes (bronchioles) in a baby's lungs is called bronchiolitis. This is often confused with bronchitis (which is inflammation of the larger air pipes called bronchus), a condition more common in adults. This causes your child to have more difficulty with breathing.

Bronchiolitis is often caused by viruses of which Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is the commonest. These illnesses is often caused by the virus being spread through cough or sneeze droplets of close family members - often an older sibling.

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Signs & Symptoms

It begins as a common cold. After a day or so, your baby gets cough, and the breathing becomes fast and sounds wheezy. This fast, wheezy breathing can make it difficult for your baby to eat or drink. Some children may need to be admitted to hospital for a day or two because of these problems.

The initial symptoms your child may have are the same as a common cold. These symptoms last for 1-2 days:

• Runny nose

• Mild cough

• Stuffiness

They are followed by an increase in problems related to breathing, such as:

• Fast breathing

• Poor feeding

• Noisy breathing (wheezing)

• Drawing in of the chest with each breath

• Fever (generally mild)

Babies with bronchiolitis are usually worst on the 2nd or 3rd day and are often sick for 7-10 days. But their cough may continue for 2-4 weeks.


• Medicines do not usually help babies with bronchiolitis. Antibiotics are not given because bronchiolitis is caused by a virus and antibiotics don't cure viruses.

• Babies need to rest, and to take small amounts of fluid more often, so they don't get too tired when feeding - frequent breastfeeds or smaller amounts of water more often. If children do not get enough drinks they might end up getting dehydrated.

• You can give paracetamol if your child is irritable.

• If your baby is distressed and having trouble feeding, they may need to be admitted to hospital.

• Give them some extra oxygen.

• Give them extra fluids through a drip into a vein (intravenous/IV therapy).

Care At Home

• Encourage rest

• Give shorter breastfeeds or water more often. This way your child

does not get too tired while feeding

• Avoid contact with other babies for the first few days, as bronchiolitis is an

infectious disease

• Ensure a smoke free environment. Always try not to smoke in the house or around your baby. This is especially important around babies with any respiratory illness.

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Reach The Nearest Doctor Or Hospital If Your Baby:

• Has difficulty breathing (very fast or not regular breaths)

• Cannot feed normally because of coughing or wheezing

• Is changing colour in the face when they cough

• Turns blue or has skin that is pale and sweaty

Take A Doctor's Appointment If:

• They have a cough that is getting worse

• They have less than half of their normal feeds or are refusing to have food or drinks

• They seem very tired or are more sleepy than usual

Points To Remember

• Babies need to rest and take fluids more often

• Bronchiolitis is an infectious disease in the first few days of illness

• It is more common in babies that are below six months

• Babies are usually sick for 3-5 days, and then recover over the next 7-10

days. The cough may continue for 2-4 weeks

• Smoking in the house increases the chance of babies having bronchiolitis

and worsening it

Arvind ShenoiNeonatology
MBBS, MD (Paed), DM (Neonatology), Fellowship in Neonatal Intensive Care (Australia)
Arvind Shenoi