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What is the treatment for bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis usually gets better by itself and most children can be looked after at home.

A few babies – about 3 in 100 – may need to go to hospital for help with their breathing and feeding.

How to care for your child at home, and what to look out for if you think they may need hospital treatment.

When will my child get better?

In most children, breathing problems usually improve after about 5 days, while the coughing can take up to 3 weeks to get better.

While your child has:

  • breathing problems
  • fever
  • any feeding problems

they will need to be kept off nursery. When these symptoms are better, they can go back. You do not need to wait until the cough has completely settled.

How can I care for my child with bronchiolitis at home?

There are lots of things that you can do for your child, to make them more comfortable when they have bronchiolitis, such as keeping their fluid intake up, helping them breathe more easily and giving paracetamol or ibuprofen. You can also take steps to avoid spreading the virus further.

Make sure your baby gets enough fluids

Your baby is getting enough fluids if they still have wet nappies.

Keep an eye out to see if your baby is struggling to feed and taking longer than usual.

If you’re bottle-feeding, watch to see if your baby is completing the bottle in the usual time. It may be better to give smaller feeds more frequently so your baby doesn't become 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 them upright when feeding
  • using saline nasal drops 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 – give your baby the normal medicines you would give for a cold such as paracetamol or ibuprofen made for infants. If you’re not sure what to give your child, ask your 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.

Keep your baby away from cigarette smoke

Cigarette smoke can make breathing more difficult.  Avoid smoking in your home or around your baby, and ask others not to do so.

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.

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 bronchiolitis.

Will my baby with bronchiolitis need to go to hospital?

A few babies – about 3 in 100 – may need to go to hospital for help with their breathing and feeding.

If your baby is less than 6 weeks old or has other medical issues, such as

  • heart disease
  • prematurity
  • needing breathing support at home
  • a problem with the immune system

then you should speak to or visit your GP practice, or go to A&E.

Breathing problems in children can be very worrying. Find out which signs and symptoms to look out for and when you should call 999.

What bronchiolitis treatment will my baby receive in hospital?

In hospital, your baby may:

  • have a suction tube in their nose, throat or mouth for a few seconds to suck out blockages
  • be given extra oxygen
  • wear a special face mask or tube attached to a machine to help oxygen into their lungs
  • use a feeding tube to be fed

Infants with bronchiolitis will usually spend anything from half a day to a few days in hospital, until their condition has stabilised. You will then be able to care for your child at home.

Next: how can I prevent bronchiolitis?

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Last medically reviewed: September 2019. Due for review: September 2022

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.