Bronchiolitis is the most common disease of the lower respiratory tract during the first year of life. It usually presents with cough with increased work of breathing, and it often affects a child's ability to feed. In primary care, the condition may often be confused with a common cold, though the presence of lower respiratory tract signs (wheeze and/or crackles on auscultation) in an infant in mid‑winter would be consistent with this clinical diagnosis. The symptoms are usually mild and may only last for a few days, but in some cases the disease can cause severe illness.

There are several individual and environmental risk factors that can put children with bronchiolitis at increased risk of severe illness. These include congenital heart disease, neuromuscular disorders, immunodeficiency and chronic lung disease.

The management of bronchiolitis depends on the severity of the illness. In most children bronchiolitis can be managed at home by parents or carers.

Approximately 1 in 3 infants will develop clinical bronchiolitis in the first year of life and 2–3% of all infants require hospitalization. In 2011/12 in England, there were 30,451 secondary care admissions for the management of bronchiolitis. It is uncommon for bronchiolitis to cause death. In 2009/10 in England, there were 72 recorded deaths of children within 90 days of hospital admission for bronchiolitis.

Bronchiolitis is associated with an increased risk of chronic respiratory conditions, including asthma, but it is not known if it causes these conditions.

The guideline covers children with bronchiolitis but not those with other respiratory conditions, such as recurrent viral induced wheeze or asthma.

Medicine recommendations

The guideline will assume that prescribers will use a drug's summary of product characteristics to inform decisions made with individual patients.

  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)