Bronchiolitis is a viral infection that affects the lower part of the lungs. The infection makes the small airways (‘bronchioles’) swell and fill with mucus. The bronchioles become narrow, making it hard for your child to breathe. The infection leads to wheezing, lots of coughing and some difficulty breathing.
Bronchiolitis usually affects young children under the age of two. Many viruses can cause this infection, but the most common is ‘Respiratory Syncytial Virus’ or RSV. RSV outbreaks happen between November and April each year, with a peak in January and February. Your child can get RSV infections many times, but as they get older the symptoms become milder.
At first, your child can have common cold symptoms, including:
About one to three days after the start of cold symptoms, the infection can spread to the small airways of the lungs causing bronchiolitis symptoms. Your child may have:
Bronchiolitis can be more severe in some children, especially if:
If your child has any symptoms of bronchiolitis, they should be seen and examined by a health care professional.
Bronchiolitis is a viral infection that lasts for 7 to 10 days. In some children the cough may continue for a few weeks even though they are feeling better.
Children with bronchiolitis can usually be managed at home. There is no medication that treats the infection. Antibiotics will NOT work since this is a viral infection.
In the hospital, doctors and nurses will do many things to help your child’s breathing and keep them comfortable. This can include:
Bronchiolitis is very contagious. It is spread through close contact with someone who is sick and coughing or sneezing around you. Touching toys or sharing food with someone who is sick can spread the virus.
Children with bronchiolitis are contagious for almost a week after they first get sick. You should keep your child at home if they are coughing a lot or having any trouble breathing.
Other tips to prevent spreading the virus:
It can be scary when your child is sick. But in most cases, you don’t need to go to the emergency department. If you’re unsure, we’re here to help.
The content provided on these pages is not intended to replace medical advice. If you have concerns about the health of your child, contact your health care provider directly. If your child has an emergency, go to the nearest emergency department or call 911. Alberta Health Services and Project HEAL strive to ensure that all material is correct but will not be held liable for errors or incomplete information contained in these pages.