What is the treatment for bronchiolitis?
Bronchiolitis is treated in different ways, depending on the severity of your child’s symptoms. On this page we explain how you can care for a child with bronchiolitis at home, the treatment they might have if they have to go to hospital and when you can expect your child to get better.
On this page:
- Watch: caring for your child with bronchiolitis
- How can I care for my child with bronchiolitis at home?
- Treatment for bronchiolitis in hospital
- Watch: Claire and Shaun's story: our experience of bronchiolitis and RSV
- When will my child get better?
Bronchiolitis usually gets better by itself, and most children can be looked after at home.
If your baby has severe symptoms or you are concerned, get in touch with your GP, NHS 111 or go to A&E.
Here are some things you can do at home to care for your child:
Make sure your baby gets enough fluids
Keep an eye out to see if your baby is struggling to feed or is taking longer than usual.
If you’re bottle-feeding, check to see if your baby is completing the bottle in the usual time. It may be better to give smaller feeds more frequently to prevent your baby becoming tired.
Help your baby breathe more easily
Babies and children with bronchiolitis find it difficult to breathe normally. You can make it easier by:
- holding your baby’s head more upright when feeding
- using saline nasal drops to keep the nostrils clear (in line with the pharmacist’s instructions)
- using a humidifier to moisten the air, if you have one.
Give paracetamol or ibuprofen
No medicines can cure bronchiolitis. You can give your baby the normal medicines you would give for a cold, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen made for infants. When used as recommended paracetamol or ibuprofen can be helpful and safe - they can take away mild aches and pains, lower elevated body temperatures and make children feel better. If you’re not sure what to give your child, ask a pharmacist.
A high temperature can be scary, but it’s a natural response to infection. Keep your baby cool but don’t try and reduce your child’s fever by sponging them with water. Don’t underdress or over-wrap a child with a fever. The NHS has useful information on high temperature (fever) in children.
What about antibiotics?
Bronchiolitis is caused by a virus so antibiotics will not help and can have side effects of their own. Doctors should not prescribe them for treating bronchiolitis.
Keep your baby away from cigarette smoke
Tobacco smoke and the vapours from e-cigarettes can make breathing more difficult. Don’t smoke cigarettes or vape in your home or anywhere near your child, and ask others not to as well.
Avoid spreading the virus
Bronchiolitis is highly infectious. Keep toys and surfaces clean and make sure everyone who comes into contact with your baby washes their hands thoroughly. Read more about preventing bronchiolitis.
A few babies with bronchiolitis – about 3 in 100 – may need to go to hospital for help with their breathing and feeding. It’s usually if they aren’t getting enough oxygen into their bloodstream, or if they’re not 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 if they have an underlying health condition.
Breathing problems in children can be very worrying. Find out which signs and symptoms to look out for and when you should call 999. If you are concerned, get in touch with your GP, NHS 111 or go to A&E.
If it’s not already been tested for, a sample of your child’s mucus may be taken to see which virus is causing the bronchiolitis. If it’s found your child has RSV, they’ll be kept away from other children in the hospital who aren’t infected with it, to stop the virus spreading further.
Be given extra oxygen
The doctor or nurse may check how much oxygen is in your child’s blood, using a machine called a pulse oximeter. The pulse oximeter is placed on your child’s finger or toe. The pulse oximeter sends light through their skin, which helps detect how much oxygen is in their blood. Pulse oximetry is completely safe and painless.
If your child needs more oxygen, it will be given to them through tubes in their nose or a special face mask. This will help more oxygen get into their lungs and will improve their breathing. If the hospital your child is being treated in does not have a specialist children’s intensive care unit, this will happen in theatre so the health care team can safely put a breathing tube in their airways.
Help with feeding
If your child is struggling to be fed, they may be given fluids or milk through a feeding tube (called a nasogastric tube). This is a thin plastic tube that goes into your child’s nose and down into their stomach.
If your child cannot be given a nasogastric tube, or they’re at high risk of respiratory failure (their breathing is very laboured and difficult), they’ll be given fluids directly into a vein (intravenously).
Be treated with nasal suction
If your child’s nose is blocked and they’re having trouble breathing, or it’s affecting their ability to feed, a small plastic tube may be inserted into your child’s nostril to suck out the mucus.
Support if my baby is treated in hospital
We know seeing your baby being treated in hospital can be a very difficult experience. Parents and guardians that we’ve spoken to have described feeling “worried”, “scared” and having to “stand their ground” to have their child symptom’s taken seriously.
It’s important to remember your baby is in the right place to get the best care. If you’d like to talk to someone, our helpline is there for you. Call 0300 222 5800 – we’re available Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. We have a team of health care advisors, as well as our clinical nurse team who can offer advice and support.
In most children, breathing problems usually improve after a few days. A cough can take longer to improve and get better.
As long as your child has:
- breathing problems
- a raised body temperature or
- isn’t feeding well
they shouldn’t go back to nursery. Talk to your child’s nursery to find out when they will be happy for your child to return.
If your child has to be admitted to hospital, the length of the hospital stay will vary depending on the severity of the illness. You will be able to care for your child at home when the medical and nursing staff believe your child is safe to be at home and no longer requires hospital care.