Symptoms - Bronchiolitis

Most children with bronchiolitis have mild symptoms and recover within 2 to 3 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 3 and day 5. The cough usually gets better within 3 weeks.

When to get medical advice

Medical advice isn't needed if your child has mild cold-like symptoms and is recovering well. You can usually care for your child at home.

But see your GP or contact NHS 111 if you're worried about your child or they:

  • aren't feeding normally (they have taken less than half their usual amount during the last 2 or 3 feeds)
  • haven't had a wet nappy for 12 hours or more
  • are breathing very fast
  • have a persistent high temperature of 38C or above
  • seem very tired or irritable

It's particularly important to get medical advice if your baby is less than 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 difficulty breathing 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're breathing very fast
  • you're unable to wake your child or, if woken up, they don't stay awake
  • their breathing stops for a long time, or there are regular shorter pauses in their breathing
  • their skin turns very pale or blue, or the inside of their lips and tongue are blue (cyanosis)

Page last reviewed: 06/08/2018
Next review due: 06/08/2021