Pediatric Bronchiolitis

Pediatric Bronchiolitis



Pediatric bronchiolitis is a common pediatric illness in which mucus builds up in tiny airways that lead to the lungs, called bronchioles. This makes breathing difficult.

Expanded Summary

Bronchiolitis occurs when bronchioles – or air passages — swell and mucus builds up.
The airways of younger children become blocked more easily than those of older children because the airways are smaller. That’s why bronchiolitis usually affects infants (age birth to 1-year*), with a peak age of 3 to 6 months.


A viral infection usually causes bronchiolitis. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the most common cause. The virus spreads to infants by coming into direct contact with nose and throat fluids of someone who has the illness. This could be through a sneeze, cough or touching an object that carries germs from a sick person.

Bronchiolitis is more common in:

  • Males
  • Premature babies
  • Children who have not been breastfed
  • Children living in crowded conditions
  • Children with chronic lung or heart conditions


Early Symptoms

Symptoms that occur early in the condition mimic the common cold and include:

  • Cough and wheezing, which will become worse over time
  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Stuffy nose and congestion

Respiratory symptoms

  • Fast, shallow breathing
  • Flaring of the nostrils
  • Irritability, difficulty sleeping, fatigue 
  • Poor appetite and dehydration (fewer wet diapers) 
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Retractions (when the areas below the ribs, between the ribs, and in the neck sink in as a child inhales)
  • Vomiting after coughing

*Age of infants as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO).

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