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Bronchiolitis is a common respiratory viral infection affecting babies and young children. The tiniest air passages in your baby’s lungs become swollen and inflamed. This can make it more difficult for your baby to breathe. Often, bronchiolitis is caused by a virus called Respiratory Syncytial Virus (known as RSV).

Almost all children will have had an infection caused by RSV by the time they are two. It is most common in the winter months and usually only cause mild ‘cold-like’ symptoms.
Most children get better on their own.

2-3 per cent of babies can have difficulty with breathing or feeding and may need to be admitted to hospital. This is more common in premature babies and those born with heart or lung conditions.

No. The virus that causes bronchiolitis in babies also causes coughs and colds in older children and adults so it is very difficult to prevent but hand washing and keeping newborn babies away from people with colds or flu help reduce spread of the virus.

  • Bronchiolitis starts like a simple cold. Your baby may have a runny/blocked nose, and sometimes a mild temperature and a cough.
  • After a few days your baby’s cough may become worse.
  • Your baby’s breathing may be faster than normal and it may become noisy and/or wheezy. He or she may need to make more effort to breathe.
  • Sometimes, in very young babies, bronchiolitis may cause them to have brief pauses in their breathing.
  • As breathing becomes more difficult, your baby may not be able to take the usual amount of milk by breast or bottle. You may notice fewer wet nappies than usual.

  • Bronchiolitis is caused by a virus, so antibiotics do not help.
  • If feeding is difficult, try offering smaller feeds more often.
  • If your baby has a temperature and is distressed you can give liquid paracetamol (please read the instructions on the bottle first).
  • If your baby has already been prescribed any medicines or inhalers, you should carry on using these. If you find it difficult to get your baby to take them ask your doctor for advice.

Make sure your baby is not exposed to tobacco smoke. Passive smoking can seriously damage your baby’s health. It makes breathing problems like bronchiolitis worse.

Your baby is not likely to get bronchiolitis again, although occasionally it can happen.

Your baby may still have a cough and remain chesty and wheezy forseveral weeks, but this will settle down gradually. Bronchiolitis does not usually cause long- term breathing problems.

Information alert

Care at home

Most babies get better within about two weeks. They may still have a cough for a few more weeks.

Your baby can go back to nursery or day care as soon as he or she is well enough (that is, feeding normally and with no difficulty in breathing).

There is usually no need to see your doctor if your baby is recovering well.

Warning alert

Call your GP if:

  • You are worried about your baby.
  • Your baby is having difficulty breathing.
  • Your baby is taking less than half their usual feeds over two to three feeds, or has no wet nappy for 12 hours.
  • Your baby has a persistent high temperature.
  • Your baby seems very tired or irritable.

Urgent alert

Dial 999 for an ambulance if:

  • 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.

Where can I get more information?

Call 111 when you need medical help fast, but it’s not an emergency. Or visit:

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