Bronchiolitis factsheet


Bronchiolitis is a common chest infection that often affects babies under 12 months old. It is caused by viruses and usually happens during the winter months. 

The virus infects the small breathing tubes in the lungs, called bronchioles. This inflammation and build-up of mucus which narrows the tubes and makes it difficult to breathe.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of bronchiolitis can start as general cold and flu symptoms, including:

  • a runny nose
  • fever
  • coughing. 

After a day or so, your baby may have:

  • a worse cough
  • wheezing – fast and noisy breathing
  • skin that pulls in at the neck and chest when they breathe.

When babies have to work hard to breathe, they may struggle to feed properly and refuse the breast or bottle.

Babies with bronchiolitis are usually sick for 7 – 10 days. The cough may continue for up to 2-4 weeks. 


Your local doctor can diagnose bronchiolitis by:

  • doing a physical exam of your child
  • checking any symptoms
  • doing a swab of the nose and throat to see what type of virus they have.


At home

Babies with mild to moderate symptoms can be cared for at home with rest and fluids. Feeding should be done in small amounts, but more frequently. This is to help keep them hydrated without becoming tired too quickly. 

If your baby has a fever and is unsettled, you can give them paracetamol or ibuprofen. Follow the instructions on the packaging and contact your local doctor or pharmacist if you have any concerns.

Antibiotics do not work to treat viruses and are not usually prescribed for bronchiolitis. 

Bronchiolitis is contagious and can spread easily to other children. Keep your baby at home while they are sick and avoid contact with other people until they are better.

Make sure you wash your hands before and after handling your baby to stop the virus from spreading to yourself and others.

In hospital

Babies with bronchiolitis may need to be admitted to hospital for treatment if:

  • their symptoms become severe
  • they are unable to breathe properly
  • they are not feeding well and become dehydrated.

Treatment for bronchiolitis in the hospital can include:

  • oxygen support to help with breathing 
  • fluids to treat dehydration.


Bronchiolitis and cigarette smoke

Babies who are exposed to cigarette smoke in their homes are more likely to get bronchiolitis. 

Parents and carers should not smoke cigarettes or vape around babies and children, especially if they have trouble breathing or are unwell.

If you do smoke, do so away from babies and children and never in a closed space like the car or inside the home.

After smoking or vaping, wash your hands and clothing before contact with your baby or child. 

Make sure any other family members or visitors who smoke or vape follow the same rules to keep your child healthy and breathing well.

When to see your doctor

See your local doctor if your child: 

  • has a cough that is getting worse or has lasted longer than 4 weeks
  • is refusing the breast or bottle
  • has fewer wet nappies
  • seems very tired or is more sleepy than usual.

Go to your nearest doctor or emergency department or call Triple Zero (000) for an ambulance if your baby: 

  • has difficulty breathing
  • is breathing very fast
  • cannot feed normally because of coughing or wheezing 
  • turns blue or has skin that is pale and sweaty.
Last updated Wednesday 17th April 2024


This factsheet is provided for general information only. It does not constitute health advice and should not be used to diagnose or treat any health condition.

Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for you and/or your child.

The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network does not accept responsibility for inaccuracies or omissions, the interpretation of the information, or for success or appropriateness of any treatment described in the factsheet.

© Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network 2024