Children's HealthMedical Conditions

Bronchiolitis in Children – It’s Not Easy Being Wheezy

By April 26, 2019 June 5th, 2019 No Comments

Being a new parent can be overwhelming, but especially so if your infant starts making horrible noises as they breath. Everyone wants the best for our baby, and as parents it’s easy to assume the worst when our child seems sick. This article will discuss bronchiolitis, one of the most common respiratory infection in children.

What is bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis is a common viral infection of the chest in young children. It causes inflammation and mucous buildup in the lower airways, making breathing difficult. It most commonly occurs in babies up to 6 months, but can occur up to 2 years old. It is more common in the winter months.

What are the signs and symptoms of bronchiolitis?

Usually, the illness begins as a simple cold, with a mild cough, and a runny or blocked nose. If the illness progresses to bronchiolitis, over the next 1-2 days the child’s cough will begin to sound worse and you may notice some breathing difficulties. Symptoms include:

  • Fast breathing

  • Noisy breathing and wheezing (noisy breathing when exhaling)

  • The appearance of difficulty breathing? Sucking in around the ribs or neck, nostril flaring, head bobbing

  • Irritability and fever

  • Difficult feeding

Generally, the child will be sick for 7-10 days, although the cough may continue for up to a month.

Should I see a doctor?

If your baby has these symptoms, it is a good idea to see your GP. He will assess your baby and the severity of its symptoms. Bronchiolitis is usually a clinical diagnosis, meaning that Xrays, blood tests or any other tests are not necessary. Occasionally, the doctor may encourage you to take your baby to the closest Children’s Hospital if he thinks the baby needs observation, extra oxygen or extra fluids (if they are not feeding enough).

In some situations, it may be necessary to take the baby to the Emergency Department straight away. This is important if:

  • The baby was premature

  • The baby is less than 10 weeks old

  • The baby has a chronic health condition (eg chronic lung, heart, neurological or immune disease)

  • The baby is Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander

How should I manage the symptoms?

Bronchiolitis is a self-limiting disease, meaning that the body will get better on its own. Because it is due to a viral infection, antibiotics will not help the baby’s symptoms. Asthma inhalers like Ventolin also have not been proven to help symptoms. Usually, the baby will not be required to go to hospital and can manage at home. There are a few things you can do at home to look after your baby while they are sick:

  • Ensure plenty of rest

  • Give small, frequent feeds to ensure they do not become dehydrated

  • Saline nose drops or sprays to clear mucous

  • Do not smoke around the house (this will help ensure that your baby does not get sick again!

It is also important to see your GP again if:

  • The cough gets worse

  • They are refusing feeds or consuming less than half their normal feeds

  • They seem more tired than usual

  • You are worried for any reason

Meanwhile, go to the Emergency Department if your baby has any of the following symptoms:

  • Irregular breathing, difficulty breathing at rest

  • Inability to feed due to cough/wheeze

  • Change of colour in face when coughing

  • Pale and sweaty skin


Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne 2018, Bronchiolitis [ONLINE] Available at: (Accessed 9 June 2018)

Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service 2014, Bronchiolitis [ONLINE] Available at: (Accessed 9 June 2018)

Sydney Children’s Hospital 2017, Fact Sheet Bronchiolitis [ONLINE] Available at: (accessed 9 June 2018)

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, feel free to book an appointment with one of our friendly doctors by booking online or contacting us by phone on 8269 6000.

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