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Bronchiolitis - Treating bronchiolitis

In most cases bronchiolitis is mild and gets better without any specific treatment within about two weeks.

A small number of children will still have some symptoms after four weeks, and in a few cases the condition is severe enough to require treatment in hospital.

Treatment at home

If you're looking after your child at home, check on them regularly, including throughout the night. If their condition worsens, contact your GP.

Read more about the symptoms of bronchiolitis for advice about when to call an ambulance.

There is no medicine that can kill the viruses that cause bronchiolitis. However, you should be able to ease mild symptoms and make your child more comfortable by following the advice below.

To avoid the infection spreading to other children, take your child out of nursery or day care and keep them at home until their symptoms have improved.

The following advice may help your child feel more comfortable while they recover.

Keep your child upright

This may help make their breathing easier and may be useful when they are trying to feed. If your child has a nap in an upright position, make sure that their head does not fall forward by supporting it with something, such as a rolled-up blanket.

Drink plenty of fluids

If your child is being breastfed or bottlefed, try giving them smaller feeds more frequently. Some additional water or fruit juice may help avoid dehydration.

Keep the air moist

If you have access to an air humidifier, using it to moisten the air may help to ease your child's cough.

Your home should be heated to a comfortable temperature, but do not make it too warm as this will dry out the air.

Keep a smoke-free environment

Inhaling smoke from cigarettes or other tobacco products may aggravate your child's symptoms. If you smoke, avoid doing so around your child.

Passive smoking can affect the lining of your child's airways, making them less resistant to infection. Keeping smoke away from your child may also help prevent future episodes of bronchiolitis.

Relieving a fever

If your child has a high temperature (fever) that is upsetting them, you can consider using paracetamol or ibuprofen, depending on their age. These are available over the counter from pharmacies without prescription.

Babies and children can be given paracetamol to treat fever or pain if they are over the age of two months. Ibuprofen may be given to children who are three months old or over and weigh at least 5kg (11lbs).

Always follow the manufacturer's instructions and do not give aspirin to children under the age of 16.

Do not try to reduce your child's high temperature by sponging them with cold water or under-dressing them.

Saline nasal drops

Saline (salt water) nasal drops are available over the counter from pharmacies. Placing a couple of drops of saline inside your child's nose before they feed may help to relieve a blocked nose.

Always follow the manufacturer's instructions or check with your pharmacist before using saline nasal drops.

Treatment in hospital

Some children with bronchiolitis need to be admitted to hospital. This is usually necessary if they aren't getting enough oxygen into their blood because they are having difficulty breathing, or if they aren't 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 with an underlying health problem. 

Once in hospital, your child will be monitored and treated in a number of ways, as explained below.

Extra oxygen

The level of oxygen in your child's blood will be measured with a pulse oximeter. This is a small clip or peg that is attached to your baby's finger or toe. It transmits light through your baby's skin and the sensor uses this to detect how much oxygen is in their blood.

If your child needs more oxygen, it can be given to them through thin tubes in their nose or a mask that goes over their face.

If it hasn't already been tested, at this point a sample of your child's mucus may be tested to see which virus is causing the bronchiolitis. This will confirm whether the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is responsible for the condition.

If your child has RSV, they will need to be kept away from other children in the hospital who are not infected with the virus. This is to control the spread of the virus.

Read more about how bronchiolitis is diagnosed.

Feeding

If your child is having trouble feeding, they may be given fluids or milk through a feeding tube. This is a thin plastic tube that goes into your child's mouth or nose and down into their stomach. Alternatively, they may be given fluids intravenously (directly into a vein).

Nasal suction

If your child's nose is blocked and they have trouble breathing, nasal suction may be used. This involves a small plastic tube being inserted into their nostrils to clear out the mucus.

Leaving hospital

Most children who are admitted to hospital will need to stay there for a few days.

Your child will be discharged from hospital and can go home when they have enough oxygen in their blood without the need for medical assistance, and they are able to take and keep down most of their normal feeds.

Research into other treatments

Several medicines have been tested to determine whether they benefit children with bronchiolitis, and most have been shown to have little or no effect.

Research also suggests that chest physiotherapy, where physical movements or breathing techniques are used to relieve the symptoms, is of no benefit.


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