In most cases, bronchiolitis is mild and gets better without needing treatment within two to three weeks.
A small number of children will still have some symptoms after four weeks, and in a few cases the infection is severe enough to require hospital treatment.
Treatment at home
If you're looking after your child at home, check on them regularly, including throughout the night. Contact your GP or out-of-hours service if their condition worsens.
Read more about the symptoms of bronchiolitis for advice about when to call an ambulance.
There's no medicine that can kill the virus that causes bronchiolitis. However, you should be able to ease mild symptoms and make your child more comfortable by following the advice below.
To avoid the infection spreading to other children, take your child out of nursery or day care and keep them at home until their symptoms have improved.
The following advice may make your child more comfortable while they recover.
Keep your child upright
Keeping your child upright may make their breathing easier and may be useful when they're trying to feed. If your child has a nap in an upright position, make sure their head doesn't fall forward by supporting it with something, such as a rolled-up blanket.
Drink plenty of fluids
If your child is being breastfed or bottlefed, try giving them smaller feeds more frequently. Some additional water or fruit juice may stop them becoming dehydrated.
Keep the air moist
If you have an air humidifier, using it to moisten the air may help your child's cough.
Your home should be heated to a comfortable temperature – but don't make it too warm, because this will dry out the air.
Inhaling smoke from cigarettes or other tobacco products may aggravate your child's symptoms. Avoid smoking around your child.
Passive smoking can affect the lining of your child's airways, making them less resistant to infection. Keeping smoke away from your child may also help to prevent future episodes of bronchiolitis.
Relieving a fever
If your child has a high temperature (fever) that's upsetting them, you can consider using paracetamol or ibuprofen, depending on their age. These are available over the counter from pharmacies without a prescription.
Babies and children can be given paracetamol to treat pain or fever if they're over the age of two months old. Ibuprofen may be given to children who are three months old or over and weigh at least 5kg (11lbs).
Always follow the manufacturer's instructions when giving your child medication, and don't give aspirin to children under 16 years of age.
Don't try to reduce your child's high temperature by sponging them with cold water or under-dressing them.
Saline nasal drops
Saline (salt water) nasal drops are available over the counter from pharmacies. Placing a couple of drops of saline inside your child's nose before they feed may help to relieve a blocked nose.
Always follow the manufacturer's instructions or check with your pharmacist before using saline nasal drops.
Treatment in hospital
Some children with bronchiolitis need to be admitted to hospital. This is usually necessary if they aren't getting enough oxygen into their blood because they're having difficulty breathing, or if they aren't eating or drinking enough.
Children are more at risk of being admitted to hospital if they were born prematurely (before week 37 of pregnancy), or with an underlying health problem.
Once in hospital, your child will be monitored and treated in a number of ways, as explained below.
The level of oxygen in your child's blood will be measured with a pulse oximeter. This is a small clip or peg that's attached to your baby's finger or toe. It transmits light through your baby's skin and the sensor uses this to detect how much oxygen is in their blood.
If your child needs more oxygen, it can be given to them through thin tubes in their nose or a mask that goes over their face.
If it hasn't already been tested, a sample of your child's mucus may be collected and tested to find out which virus is causing the bronchiolitis. This will confirm whether the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is responsible for the infection.
If your child has RSV, they'll need to be kept away from other children in the hospital who aren't infected with the virus, to stop it spreading.
Read more about how bronchiolitis is diagnosed.
If your child is having trouble feeding, they may be given fluids or milk through a feeding tube (nasogastric tube). This is a thin plastic tube that goes into your child's mouth or nose and down into their stomach.
If your child can't use nasogastric fluids, or they're at high risk of respiratory failure, they may be given fluids intravenously (directly into a vein).
Nasal suction isn't routinely used in children with bronchiolitis. However, it may be recommended if your child's nose is blocked and they're having trouble breathing. A small plastic tube will be inserted into your child's nostrils to suck out the mucus.
Most children with bronchiolitis who are admitted to hospital will need to stay there for a few days.
Your child will be able to leave hospital and return home when their condition has stabilised. This will be when they have enough oxygen in their blood without the need for further medical assistance, and they're able to take and keep down most of their normal feeds.
Research into other treatments
A number of medicines have been tested to see whether they benefit children with bronchiolitis, but most have been shown to have little or no effect. For example, antibiotics and corticosteroids aren't recommended for treating bronchiolitis.
Research also suggests that chest physiotherapy, where physical movements or breathing techniques are used to relieve symptoms, is of no benefit.
Page last reviewed: 10/09/2015
Next review due: 10/09/2017