Symptoms of bronchiolitis 

Most children with bronchiolitis have mild symptoms and recover within two to three weeks, but it's important to look out for signs of more serious problems, such as breathing difficulties.

Early symptoms of bronchiolitis tend to appear within a few days of becoming infected. They're usually similar to those of a common cold, such as a blocked or runny nose, a cough and a slightly high temperature (fever).

The symptoms usually get worse during the next few days, before gradually improving. During this time, your child may develop some of the following symptoms:

  • a rasping and persistent dry cough
  • rapid or noisy breathing (wheezing)
  • brief pauses in their breathing
  • feeding less and having fewer wet nappies
  • vomiting after feeding
  • being irritable

Most cases of bronchiolitis aren't serious, but the symptoms can be very worrying.

Symptoms are usually at their worst between day three and day five. The cough usually gets better within three weeks.

When to seek medical advice

If your child only has mild cold-like symptoms and is recovering well, there's usually no need to seek medical advice. You can usually care for your child at home (see treating bronchiolitis for more information).

Contact your GP if you're worried about your child, or if they develop any of the following symptoms:

  • struggling to breathe
  • poor feeding (your child has taken less than half their usual amount during the last two or three feeds)
  • they've had no wet nappy for 12 hours or more
  • a breathing rate of 50-60 breaths per minute
  • a high temperature of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • they seem very tired or irritable

It's particularly important to seek medical advice if your baby is under 12 weeks old, or they have an underlying health condition, such as a congenital (present from birth) heart or lung condition.

When to call 999

While it's unusual for children to need hospital treatment for bronchiolitis, the symptoms can get worse very quickly.

Call 999 and ask for an ambulance if:

  • your child has severe breathing difficulties or exhaustion from trying to breathe – you may see the muscles under their ribs sucking in with each breath, they may be grunting with the effort of trying to breathe, or they may be pale and sweaty
  • they have a rapid breathing rate of more than 60 breaths per minute
  • you're unable to rouse (wake) your child or, if woken up, they don't stay awake
  • their breathing stops for a long time (more than 10 seconds at a time), or there are regular shorter pauses in their breathing of 5-10 seconds
  • their skin turns very pale or blue, or the inside of their lips and tongue are blue (cyanosis)

Page last reviewed: 10/09/2015

Next review due: 10/09/2017