Bronchiolitis in Babies – Causes, Signs And Treatment

Is your baby having a hard time breathing and losing appetite lately? Chances are, he/she has bronchitis which is very common between the ages of three and six months old.


What Is Bronchiolitis?

When mucus fills the air passages in the lungs, it causes inflammation and prevents proper breathing and air flow regulation. This causes the baby to cough, giving him/her a hard time breathing. Bronchitis is a contagious condition in babies.

Difference Between Bronchitis And Bronchiolitis

In Bronchitis, the larger airways get infected due to excessive mucus production which the lungs try to eliminate through coughing. However, in Bronchiolitis, inflammation results in congestion of the bronchioles (small airways) which causes breathing difficulties in children.

Can Bronchiolitis Be A Problem For Babies?

Acute Bronchiolitis in infants and babies are caused by the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), and those with existing heart or lung conditions need to be hospitalized immediately when diagnosed with this illness.  Most young children below one year old face RSV infections, however, only 10% develop a Bronchiolitis condition.

How Long Does Baby Bronchiolitis Last?

Most Bronchiolitis cases last up to 12 days, however, coughing and wheezing may continue for weeks even after this period. During the second or third day, the child faces breathing difficulty at its peak after which recovery ensues.

When Is A Baby Most Likely To Get Bronchiolitis?

Babies are most likely to get Bronchiolitis between the ages of three months to six months old. Chances of developing Bronchiolitis increase when they are directly exposed to cigarette smoke and if they develop prematurely or if they have not been properly breastfed. Children who have a weakened immune system or have chronic heart/lung disease are also at risk of developing Bronchiolitis.

Causes Of Bronchiolitis In Infants

The following are the primary causes of Bronchiolitis in babies

  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) which is contagious in nature
  • Adenoviruses which are responsible for 10% of acute respiratory tract infections in children
  • Viruses which cause inflammation in the lungs, nose and throat such as the Influenza
  • Exposure to cigarette smoke and tobacco

Bronchiolitis Symptoms In Babies

You can prevent and treat Bronchiolitis early by taking note of the following symptoms-

  • Baby refusing to be breastfed
  • Nasal flaring
  • Mild fever accompanied by a persistent cough
  • Skin areas above the collarbone and below the ribs sink with each breath
  • Wheezing or irregular breathing
  • Irritable mood and brief pauses between breaths
  • Vomiting immediately after being fed


Diagnosis of Bronchiolitis is usually done at the hospital or clinic. The doctor will collect a mucus sample of your child using a cotton swab and observe your child’s breathing patterns by listening in to his/her chest through a stethoscope. If your child is suffering from severe Bronchiolitis, your doctor may-

  • Conduct a Chest X-ray exam.
  • Run blood tests to check for the count of white blood cells in the body.

Your doctor may also ask whether your child has been refusing to eat or not and look for signs of dehydration due to improper breastfeeding such as dry mouth and skin and little to lack of sufficient urination.


Cyanosis is a potential complication caused by severe Bronchiolitis and is noted by a blue tinge on the skin due to lack of sufficient oxygenation in blood cells. Dehydration accompanies severe Bronchiolitis developments alongside fatigue and in extreme cases, respiratory failure which leads to death in babies. If your child’s Bronchiolitis condition is accompanied by severe cold, he/she may be susceptible to pneumonia.

Treatment For Infant Bronchiolitis

There are various ways to treat infant Bronchiolitis. They are-

  • Chest rubs on children using eucalyptus or camphor compounds provide relief from persistent cough

Chest Rubs Provide Relief

  • If your doctor allows it, you can give one or two nasal drops to your child
  • Doctor-prescribed medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen

Hospitalisation And Medication

If your child is in the extreme stages of Bronchiolitis, then medications and hospitalization  are necessary. A special liquid diet along with the administration of IV fluids will be given to your child to prevent dehydration and worsening of existing symptoms.  Some antibiotics may be prescribed if your doctor observes any signs of lung infections linked to your child’s acute Bronchiolitis.

Home Remedies

The best way to prevent acute Bronchiolitis is by spotting common symptoms and beginning prevention treatment at home. Here are a couple of home remedies that work wonders for children-

  • Intake More Fluids – Encourage your child to increase his fluid intake by drinking more water and warm soups. This will soothe his/her throat and flush out mucus through coughing. A natural home remedy is warm water with lemon and honey. Green tea and cranberry juice are good alternative beverages for Bronchiolitis relief too.
  • Rest Enough – Getting enough rest and giving babies with bronchiolitis recovery time is crucial towards the treatment of the illness. Make sure your child sleeps in an upright position and elevate his/her head by placing a couple of pillows under the mattress.
  • Steam Baths – Steam baths and warm showers are perfect ways to relieve nasal congestion and flush out mucus from bronchioles. A steam shower may help your child improve his breathing and provide relaxation.
  • No Smoking – Ban smoking in your household and do not permit family members or grown-ups to smoke at home. Eliminate exposure to tobacco and remove any irritants such as dust, pollen and chemicals.
  • OTC Medications – If your child experiences pain and fever along with Bronchiolitis symptoms, then you may administer over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Please consult with your doctor before using these medications and get a prescription for appropriate dosage and instructions.

OTC Medications

  • Warm Compresses – If your child experiences difficulty breathing then you may use a warm compress and place it over his/her chest. It will help relieve congestion and flush out mucus as well.
  • Use A Humidifier – Install a humidifier at home and prevent dehydration by running it during the nights.


Bronchiolitis can be detected and prevented early on if you take a couple of precautions and safe measures. Here’s how you prevent it in infants and babies-

  • Clean Their Toys – Make sure you wash and wipe toys to get rid of dust and any outdoor contaminants.
  • Wash Hands – Make sure you wash your child’s hands (and even yours) before every feeding session.
  • Use Disposable Tissues – Disposable tissues prevent viruses and infections from spreading to others. This will keep others safe from infections, especially your baby if someone in the family already has Bronchiolitis.
  • Exercise Hygiene At Home – From cigarette smoke, exposure to tobacco, pollen, dust particles and other environmental irritants, keep your home hygienic and wipe surfaces clean to prevent Bronchiolitis from harming your baby.

When Should You Call The Doctor?

You should call the doctor immediately if you notice your child persistently coughing and breathing gets laboured. If your child experiences vomiting, has trouble eating properly, and is less than 12 months old with low birth weight, then you must immediately get him/her checked up at the clinic for precautionary measures. A dead giveaway for Bronchiolitis is if your child’s skin turns blue (including lips and fingernails) and if their ribs go inward when they inhale breaths.

Although there are no specific treatment options available for complications of Bronchiolitis, the best way you can get your child treated is to prevent it early on. Make sure you maintain a healthy lifestyle and incorporate the above tips and practices to prevent Bronchiolitis from occurring in the future.

Also read: A Guide To Baby Allergies & How To Handle Them