Most children with bronchiolitis have mild symptoms and recover within two weeks, but it's important to look out for signs of more serious problems, such as breathing difficulties.
The early symptoms of bronchiolitis tend to appear within a few days of becoming infected. These are 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
Although most cases of bronchiolitis are not serious, these symptoms can be very worrying.
When to seek medical advice
If your child only has mild cold-like symptoms and is recovering well, there is usually no need to seek medical advice. In these cases you can normally care for your child at home. See treating bronchiolitis for more information about this.
Contact your GP if you are worried about your child, or if your child develops any of the following symptoms:
- struggling to breathe
- poor feeding (your child has taken less than half the amount that they usually do during the last two or three feeds)
- no wet nappy for 12 hours or more
- a breathing rate of 50-60 breaths a minute
- a high temperature of 38°C (100.4°F) or above
- seeming very tired or irritable
It is particularly important to seek medical advice if your baby is under 12 weeks old or they have an underlying health problem, such as a congenital (present from birth) heart or lung condition.
When to call 999
While it is unusual for children to need hospital treatment for bronchiolitis, the symptoms can get worse very quickly.
Call 999 for an ambulance if:
- your child has severe breathing difficulties or exhaustion from trying to breathe – you may see the muscles under your child's ribs sucking in with each breath, your child may be grunting with the effort of trying to breathe, or they may be pale and sweaty
- your child has a rapid breathing rate of more than 60 breaths a minute
- you are unable to rouse (wake) your child or, if roused, they do not stay awake
- your child's breathing stops for a long period (more than 10 seconds at a time), or there are regular shorter pauses in breathing of 5-10 seconds
- your child's skin begins to turn very pale or blue, or the inside of their lips and tongue are a blue colour (known as cyanosis)