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Caring for your child with bronchiolitis

What is it?

  • Bronchiolitis is when the smallest air passages in a child’s lungs become swollen. This can make it more difficult for your child to breathe.
  • Usually, 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 years old.
  • It is most common in the winter months and usually only causes mild “cold-like” symptoms.
  • Most children get better on their own.
  • Some children, especially very young ones, can have difficulty with breathing or feeding and may need to go to hospital.
  • Most children with bronchiolitis get better within about two weeks but the cough may go on longer

What are the symptoms?

  • Your child may have a runny nose and sometimes have a temperature and a cough.
  • After a few days your child’s cough may become worse.
  • Your child’s breathing may be faster than normal and it may become noisy.
  • They need to make more effort to breathe.
  • Sometimes, in very young children, bronchiolitis may cause brief pauses in their breathing.
  • Sometimes breathing can become more difficult, and your child may not be able to take their full amount of milk by breast or bottle or may want smaller amounta more often.
  • You may notice fewer wet nappies than usual.
  • Your child may vomit after feeding

Signs your child is finding is difficult to breathe

  • Rapid breathing
  • Needing more effort to breathe
  • Nostrils moving
  • Pulling in of chest muscles between their ribs
  • Pulling of their neck muscles

How can I help my child?

  • If your child is not feeding as normal offer them feeds little and often.
  • If your child has a fever, you can give him or her paracetamol in the recommended doses.
  • If your child is older than six months old you may also give Ibuprofen.
  • At home, we do not recommend giving both Paracetamol and Ibuprofen at the same time together. If your child has not improved after two to three hours you may want to give them the other
  • Medicine. Never exceed the dose on the bottle.
  • If your child is already taking medicines or inhalers, you should carry on using these. If you find it difficult to get your baby/child to take them, please seek medical advice
  • Bronchiolitis is caused by a virus, so antibiotics won’t help.
  • Make sure your child is not exposed to tobacco smoke in the air or on clothes. It makes bronchiolitis worse.

Worried about your child?

Use traffic light advice

GREEN: If your child has none of the symptoms in the amber or red categories, continue to look after them at home

Continue to follow your CCN Hospital@Home advice

AMBER: If your child has ANY of these

Appears to be getting worse or if you are worried

  • OR has decreased feeding by more than half
  • OR is not drinking
  • OR has signs of dehydration, such as
    • a dry mouth,
    • no tears,
    • sunken eyes,
    • the soft spot at the top of the head is more dipped in than usual,
    • more sleepy than usual,
    • they wee less or seem generally unwell
  • OR if your child is vomiting
  • OR if your child’s temperature is above 39C (102.2F)
  • OR if your child is finding it difficult to breathe (see signs)

YOU NEED TO SEEK MEDICAL ADVICE: Please call CCN H@H on 01865 902700 8am to 8pm, 7 days a week Or GP Out of Hours via NHS111

RED: If your child has blue lips

  • OR if your child is unresponsive
  • OR very irritable
  • OR if your child is struggling to breathe
  • OR if your child has unusually long pauses in breather
  • OR if your child has an irregular breathing pattern

YOU NEED EMERGENCY HELP CALL 999: You need to be seen at an emergency department (A&E)

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General guidance: Contact us

Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, Trust Headquarters,
Littlemore Mental Health Centre, Sandford Road, Littlemore, Oxford OX4 4XN

  • Switchboard: 01865 901 000
  • Email:
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Page last reviewed: 23 March, 2023

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