Signs and Symptoms of Bronchiolitis

Bronchiolitis often starts like a common cold and causes symptoms such as mild fever, cough, and stuffy or runny nose. However, more serious symptoms develop after 1 or 2 days.

Children with bronchiolitis have difficulty breathing and often wheeze, grunt, or make high-pitched whistling noises. Breathing often is quick (e.g., 50–60 breaths per minute) and shallow. When the child takes a breath, his or her neck, chest, and abdomen may draw inward (called retractions).

Other symptoms of bronchiolitis include the following:

  • Dehydration
  • Difficulty sleeping, fatigue
  • Flaring nostrils
  • Inflammation of the middle ear (otitis media), digestive tract, or upper respiratory tract (e.g., throat infection [pharyngitis])
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite, difficulty eating
  • Pinkeye (conjunctivitis; inflammation of the conjunctiva)
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Vomiting after coughing
  • Worsening cough, often described as a "tight" cough

Bronchiolitis Complications

Children with bronchiolitis are at increased risk for serious complications, including respiratory failure and apnea (condition in which breathing stops briefly; more common in premature babies). They also are at risk for other respiratory infections (e.g., pneumonia) and ear infections (e.g., otitis media). If the baby's lips or fingertips begin to turn blue, parents or caregivers should seek immediate medical attention.

Studies suggest that children who have bronchiolitis are prone to developing asthma when they get older. However, doctors are not certain whether asthma is caused by the virus or whether the virus worsens a genetic disposition for asthma.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 27 Aug 2008

Last Modified: 03 Sep 2015