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Bronchitis and Bronchiolitis

Bronchitis is an inflammation in the main airways of the lungs. It is caused by an infection. This causes extra mucous to be made and the body tries to get rid of this by coughing. Bacteria or a virus can cause bronchitis; usually it is the same virus as a cold. It can also be caused by breathing in substances like tobacco smoke.

There are 2 types of bronchitis:

Acute bronchitis

This mostly happens in children under 5 years old and lasts about 3 weeks. The airways will be inflamed and cause coughing.

Its more common in the winter and can start after having a cold.

Chronic bronchitis

This is a lung condition that usually affects adults who are over 40 years old.


This occurs in babies and children under 2 years old. This is also an infection and affects the lower respiratory tract. It usually isn’t serious and lasts 2-3 weeks. Sometimes the symptoms can be more severe and need to be treated in hospital. This is usually because your baby is becoming tired from working harder to breathe and so needs help with breathing and also with taking food and drink. Keeping your baby away from cigarette smoke, cleaning toys regularly, washing yours and your child’s hands and avoiding people with flu or colds can help reduce the chances of getting bronchiolitis.

    • Your child may have had a cold or sore throat and then developed a cough
    • They might have a temperature (fever)
    • They could have a headache and feel achy
    • Your child might sound wheezy and be breathing fast
    • Generally feeling unwell
    • Babies may have difficulty feeding
  • Because bronchitis is usually caused by a virus your doctor probably won’t prescribe antibiotics. These only work against bacteria. There are some things you can do at home to help your child and make them more comfortable


    • Encourage your child to drink lots of fluids
    • If you are breastfeeding your child, give feeds more often. If you are bottle feeding you could try giving smaller feeds more often
    • You can raise the end of your child’s cot to make breathing easier
    • Try to encourage your child to have plenty of rest
    • You can get nasal drops (saline drops) from the pharmacy to help with breathing and feeding
    • Having an air humidifier may help your child to breath more easily
    • You might want to try an over the counter cough medicine, talk to your pharmacist about this
    • A temperature over 38° C is high for a child. It’s common for a child to have a temperature when they are unwell. If your child has a temperature (fever) you can treat this with Paracetamol or Ibuprofen, these mustn’t be given together. Paracetamol can be given to babies 2 months and over and Ibuprofen to babies 3 months and over. Give plenty of fluids. Have a look at our animation for more advice about treating a temperature at home
    • If your chid has a temperature and they are coughing and unwell, you will need to keep them from school. Bronchitis is usually caused by a virus so it is contagious and can be spread


  • You can help to stop germs spreading to reduce the chances of other people catching the illness

    • Encourage your child to cover their mouth when couching and to put tissues in the bin
    • Good hand washing can help stop germs spreading. Help your child get into the habit of doing this after they have been to the toilet and before they eat. It’s important that you also do this
    • Take a look at our animation for more advice about how to stop germs from spreading
  • Observe your child for any changes, if you are worried or notice symptoms getting worse get medical advice                                                               

    • Keep an eye on how many wet nappies your baby has, if this is less than usual they may be dehydrated. If your baby has a dry nappy for 12 hours it is recommended that you get medical advice. You can call NHS 111
    • If your baby was premature or has heart or lung problems
    • If your child has heart problems or asthma
    • If your baby’s temperature is 38°C or higher and isn’t coming down
    • Call 999 if your baby is having difficulty breathing, your baby's tongue or lips are blue or there are long pauses in your baby's breathing
    • If your baby is difficult to wake call 999
  • Bronchitis-NHS


    Great Ormond Street Hospital information about bronchiolitis

    Information about bronchitis for teenagers

    Lullaby Trust Baby Check App for simple checks parents can do when your baby is showing signs of illness

Who Can Help?

For support or advice young people, families and professionals can contact:

Just One Number for Norfolk Children and Young People’s Health Services Tel: 0300 300 0123 Monday-Friday 9am-5pm Saturday 9am-1pm.

Parents can use Parentline Text messaging service: 07520 631590

Other parents who are going through or have been through this before can be a big help to you, friends or family, or you could join our online forum to speak to Norfolk Parents, click *here* to find out more.

If you are very worried about your baby's breathing call 999.

The Lullaby Trust - Baby Check App This app has simple checks that you can do if your baby is ill and helps you think about whether they need to see a doctor or health professional.

Boloh - Are you are a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic parent wanting to know more about chest infections?  The ‘Boloh’ helpline from Barnados ,which was set up in 2020 due  to the impact of Covid-19 on these communities, can help provide you with advice and guidance on what to do if your child has a chest infection. They can provide a service in English, Punjabi, Mirpuri, Polish, Luganda, Ruyankole, Rukiga, Rutooro and Kinyarwanda. Interpreters can also be provided for other languages.
The Boloh helpline number for children and families from Black, Asian and other minority ethnic backgrounds is 0800 151 2605 or you can visit
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