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Bronchiolitis Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

What Are the Symptoms of Bronchiolitis?

When symptoms of bronchiolitis first occur, they are usually similar to that of a common cold. Runny nose, fever, stuffy nose, loss of appetite and cough are the first signs of the infection. Symptoms may worsen after a few days and may include wheezing, shortness of breath, and worsening of the cough.

Young children who get very sick may have trouble breathing and trouble swallowing. You should consult your doctor if your child shows signs of trouble breathing, dehydration such as dry mouth, crying without tears, or producing less urine than normal. If your child experiences severe symptoms like blue lips or skin, pauses in breathing or respiratory failure, call 911 immediately.

How Bronchiolitis Is Diagnosed

Doctors will usually start with a basic physical exam when determining if a child has bronchiolitis. Additional tests may be necessary if symptoms are severe. A chest X-ray may be needed to look for signs of pneumonia. A blood test may be needed to check white blood cell count for signs of infection. A doctor may take a nose swab to test your child’s mucus in an attempt to identify the virus that is causing the infection.

How Bronchiolitis Is Treated

There are no vaccines or specific treatments for bronchiolitis. Antibiotics and cold medicine are not effective in treating bronchiolitis. Most cases go away on their own and can be cared for at home.

It is key that your child drinks lots of fluids to avoid dehydration. To aid your infant’s breathing, your doctor may recommend saline nose drops. Using a suction bulb to clear your child’s nasal airways is also a simple solution. Your doctor may recommend acetaminophen if they develop a fever. About three percent of children with bronchiolitis will need to be hospitalized. Here the child may be put on humidified oxygen and receive fluids through an IV to prevent dehydration. For the most severe cases, the child may have to have a tube inserted into the windpipe to aid breathing. Most children will be sent home between 2 and 8 days in the hospital.

How to Prevent Bronchiolitis

Because the virus that causes bronchiolitis is contagious, the best way to prevent it is by washing your hands frequently and thoroughly. It is important to limit your child’s contact with people who have respiratory infections and to clean and disinfect surfaces often. Additionally, it has been suggested that breastfed babies may have higher immunity, as well as children who are not exposed to secondhand smoke.

Finding Support

You can call the Lung Association's Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA to talk to a trained respiratory professional who can help answer your questions and connect you with additional support.

Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel

Page last updated: March 12, 2020

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