What are the symptoms of bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis usually starts like a simple cold. On this page we explain the different symptoms of bronchiolitis. We also explain how bronchiolitis is diagnosed.

What are the symptoms of bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis usually starts like a simple cold. Most babies will only have mild symptoms and you can look after them at home.

Mild bronchiolitis symptoms

Mild symptoms can include:

  • a slightly high temperature (fever) – a normal temperature for babies and children is about 36.4C, but this can vary slightly
  • a dry and persistent raspy cough
  • some difficulty feeding
  • some difficulty breathing or fast breathing
  • noisy breathing (wheezing).

Severe bronchiolitis symptoms

Some babies have more severe symptoms. They might find it hard to feed and become very breathless or breathe in a shallow, irregular way.

If your baby has a cold that goes on for longer than usual, watch out for the following:

  • your child’s breathing becoming laboured (very hard work)
  • they aren’t feeding well - taking half to three quarters of their normal amount, or having dry nappies for 12 hours or longer
  • your child is more sleepy or less alert than usual
  • your child’s body temperature is above 37.5 degrees.

If your child has any of these symptoms, contact a doctor, nurse or pharmacist.

When should I seek medical assistance?

If your baby has mild symptoms, you can usually look after them at home. But always speak to your GP, pharmacist or another health care professional if you have any concerns. You can also call our helpline on 0300 222 5800 – our team of friendly nurses are available Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm.

If your child has severe symptoms of bronchiolitis, get in touch with a health care professional. Out of hours, call NHS 111 (in England and Scotland), NHS 111 Wales or 0845 46 47 (in Wales) or your local out-of-hours service (in Northern Ireland).

Call 999 for urgent help if:

  • your child is struggling to breathe. They may grunt or draw the muscles under their chest in when they breathe. This makes them look like they are breathing with their tummy.
  • your child’s breathing stops for 20 seconds or longer on one occasion, or there are regular shorter pauses in their breathing.
  • the colour of your baby's skin inside the lips or under the tongue turns blue.

How is bronchiolitis diagnosed?

A diagnosis of bronchiolitis is made without special tests. Your doctor will ask you about your child’s symptoms, check their temperature and listen to their chest.

To make a diagnosis the doctor or nurse will consider:

  • your child’s age
  • their symptoms
  • their breath sounds (the sound of your baby or toddler’s chest when listening with a stethoscope)
  • their body temperature.

The doctor or nurse may also check how much oxygen is in your child’s blood, using a machine called a pulse oximeter. The pulse oximeter is placed on your child’s finger or toe. The pulse oximeter sends light through their skin, which helps detect how much oxygen is in their blood. Pulse oximetry is completely safe and painless.

Get support

Call our Helpline for support with your condition. Get advice on your medicines, symptoms or travelling with a lung condition, or just call us to say hello.

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