Bronchiolitis - Complications of bronchiolitis

If your child develops complications from bronchiolitis, it's likely they'll need hospital treatment.

Potential complications of bronchiolitis include:

  • cyanosis – a blue tinge to the skin caused by a lack of oxygen
  • dehydration – when the normal water content of the body is reduced
  • fatigue – extreme tiredness and a lack of energy
  • severe respiratory failure – an inability to breathe unaided

In rare cases bronchiolitis can be accompanied by a bacterial infection of the lungs called pneumonia. If this happens, the pneumonia will need to be treated separately.

If any of these complications occur, contact your GP immediately. In some cases you may need to dial 999 for an ambulance to take your child to hospital.

Read more about the symptoms of bronchiolitis for more information about when to seek medical advice.

Who's at risk?

Although serious complications are rare, around 35,000 children with bronchiolitis are admitted to hospital in England every year for further monitoring or treatment.

If your child was born with a health problem, such as a heart or lung disease, there is an increased risk of complications from bronchiolitis. Their symptoms may be more severe and come on very rapidly. The infection may also make any symptoms of your child's underlying health problem worse.

Long-term effects of bronchiolitis

Bronchiolitis does not usually cause long-term breathing problems. However, it can cause damage to the cells in your child's airways. This damage can last for three to four months in some children, causing persistent wheezing and coughing.

Respiratory conditions in later life

There may be a link between bronchiolitis and developing respiratory conditions such as asthma in later life. However, the link is not fully understood.

It is not clear whether having bronchiolitis as an infant makes going on to have asthma more likely, or whether there are environmental or genetic (inherited) factors that cause both bronchiolitis and asthma. 

If your child has repeated bouts of bronchiolitis, their risk of developing asthma later in life may be increased.

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