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Bronchiolitis (RSV)

Bronchiolitis is a frequent cause of breathing problems and cough in children under 3 years of age. It occurs most frequently in the winter months. A virus causes bronchiolitis. A common virus that causes bronchiolitis is RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). In children less than 1 year old, RSV can cause severe breathing difficulty and may require admission to the hospital. In older children and adults, RSV may cause a mild cold. Since bronchiolitis is a viral illness, antibiotics are not effective and usually are not given unless bacterial infection occurs along with the virus. RSV and other viruses that cause bronchiolitis can be spread easily. Coughing and sneezing spreads the illness. It is important to wash your hands when caring for children with bronchiolitis. Toss used tissues and do not share toys if children have bronchiolitis.

The following are common symptoms seen with bronchiolitis:

  • Runny or stuffy nose, sneezing

  • Fever

  • Wheezing or tight cough

  • Difficulty or rapid breathing

  • Decreased appetite or activity


If your child is diagnosed with bronchiolitis, your doctor may do a lab test to see if it is RSV. There is no specific treatment for helping your child get over bronchiolitis, whether it is RSV or not, but there are some general measures to help care for your child at home:

  • Elevate your child’s head while sleeping

  • Cool mist vaporizer/humidifier (water only)

  • Nasal saline drops (Little Noses, Ayr) and bulb suction for nasal secretions

  • Small frequent feedings, encourage fluids

  • Do not give medicine labeled as cough suppressant

  • Keep child away from smokers as this will make the illness worse

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin/Advil) may be used for discomfort


Call or bring the child to the doctor if:

  • Increased shortness of breath (unable to catch breath)

  • Extreme fussiness (unable to console)

  • Child is hard to awaken from sleep

  • Child looks blue around lips or mouth

  • Nausea and vomiting over 24 hours

  • Rapid shallow breathing with “pulling in” of skin between the ribs

  • Flaring of nostrils when breathing



What is RSV?

Respiratory Syncytial Virus is a virus that affects the respiratory tract. RSV infections occur from October through April and are spread through direct personal contact, coughing, and sneezing. If you have an infant at home, we recommend limiting his/her exposure to crowds of people during the “RSV season”. In, adults, it causes a common cold, but in infants and young children it can cause croup, bronchiolitis or pneumonia. Symptoms include runny or stuffy nose, fever, wheezing, tight cough, difficult or rapid breathing, and decreased appetite. Since RSV is a virus, antibiotics will not “cure” it but other treatments may be needed.

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