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Updated: Apr 20

It is a viral infection that targets the small airways of a child’s lungs usually in infants aged less than 2 years old, caused commonly by Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).

Rapid breathing in babies

Bronchiolitis develops when an infection causes the very small airways in the lungs (the bronchioles) to become swollen and filled with mucus. This makes it hard to get air into the lungs, which may result in shortness of breath and coughing.

Bronchiolitis Pathophysiology
Bronchiolitis Pathophysiology

How Common is Bronchiolitis?

Most common lower respiratory tract infection among children younger than 2 years old.

Is Bronchiolitis Contagious?

The viruses that cause bronchiolitis are contagious. It spread through respiratory droplets (saliva or mucus) from someone’s mouth or nose. When someone sneezes or coughs, these droplets become airborne and spread from person to person or stick to frequently touched surfaces or objects.


Infants, especially those under 3 months old are at the greatest risk because their lungs and immune system are not fully developed. Other factors that may make a child more susceptible include:

  • Premature birth

  • Underlying health conditions, especially heart and lung-related

  • Exposure to tobacco smoke

  • Have a compromised immune system

  • Contact with other children who are sick, such as in child care settings


Early signs and symptoms of bronchiolitis resemble those of the common cold, including:

  • Runny nose, stuffy nose

  • Fever

  • Loss of appetite

  • Cough

  • Fussiness or irritability (infants)

Bronchiolitis symptoms

A bronchiolitis infection targets your child’s airways later can cause the following symptoms that affect their breathing:

  • Flaring (widening) nostrils when breathing

  • Rapid or shallow breathing

  • Chest retracts during breathing (their skin pulls down tightly against their rib cage and makes their chest look like it’s pulling inward)

  • Wheezing, Grunting noises when they breathe

  • Bluish skin tone on their lips, fingers or toes (cyanosis)

Peripheral cyanosis and central cyanosis

Some of them will have:

  • Difficulty sucking and/or swallowing (unable to feed)

  • Dry mouth, not urinating (peeing)/ pampers not heavy as usual or crying without producing tears (signs of dehydration)

If your child has trouble breathing or you notice the following above symptoms, call your healthcare provider or visit the emergency room immediately

How Bronchiolitis Is Treated?

Treatment for acute bronchiolitis focuses on symptoms relief

  • Antipyretic for fever

  • It is key that your child drinks lots of fluids to avoid dehydration

  • To aid your infant’s breathing, your doctor may recommend saline nose drops and suction bulb to clear your child’s nasal airways

Antibiotics won’t help because they’re ineffective at treating viral infections.

Your child may need to stay in the hospital if they have trouble breathing or warning signs as highlighted above. Your child may need oxygen therapy or intravenous (IV) fluids in the hospital.

In addition to monitoring your child’s breathing during their illness, you can help your child feel better at home by:

  • Encouraging your child to get plenty of rest.

  • Feeding your child multiple small meals throughout the day if they don’t have an appetite for a full meal during regular meal times.

  • Giving your child plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Breast milk (chest milk) or formula is appropriate for children younger than 1 year.

  • Using saline nasal drops and a nasal suction to relieve a stuffy nose.

  • Giving your child antipyretic as prescribed by doctor for fever

How To Prevent Bronchiolitis?

Because the virus that causes bronchiolitis is contagious, the best way to prevent it is by:

  • Washing your hands frequently and thoroughly

  • Limit your child’s contact with people who have respiratory infections

  • Clean and disinfect surfaces often

  • Avoid sharing utensils

Until your child is better, keep them home from daycare or other environments where they’re in close contact with others.

Hope everyone grasps the information about acute bronchiolitis. It's crucial for parents to recognize the warning signs.
If you find the blog challenging, consider referring to the images illustrating key indicators: chest retraction, rapid breathing, intercostal recession, central cyanosis and peripheral cyanosis.
For further consultation, visit Klinik Radia to consult with our resident doctor. Additionally, we offer appointments with visiting pediatricians. We trust this blog will be beneficial for many parents in caring for their children.

After reading our blog on acute bronchiolitis, how comfortable do you feel recognizing its symptoms and knowing what to do if your child shows signs?

  • I feel confident, ready to tackle any cough or wheeze!

  • Pretty comfortable, but I might need a quick refresher.

  • I have a basic understanding, but I could use more guidance.

  • Not sure, may need to reread blog

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