Coping With Sick Kids Under 5 — Bronchiolitis & Bronchitis


IN THIS series of 5 articles, we explore the 5 most common illnesses among children below 5.

Bronchiolitis And Bronchitis

This week’s article gives us more information on bronchiolitis and bronchitis.

Coughing and wheezing are common in young children, but do you know the underlying illness? This week, we learn about bronchiolitis and bronchitis — two infections of the lungs that have common symptoms such as coughing, slight fever, and wheezing.

Brnochitis can affect people of all ages, while bronchiolitis almost only affects younger children.

Wheezing is caused by the narrowing of the bronchioles or small airways in the lung (See diagram above). This narrowing results from inflammation (swelling) caused by several viruses, usually the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). As the airways swell, air supply to the lungs is restricted, making breathing difficult.

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bronchitisSigns And Symptoms

  • Fever, cough and running nose.
  • Wheezing (commonly noticed by parents as noisy breathing) is a high-pitched whistling sound produced during breathing out.
  • Rapid breathing (more than 40 breath per minute) with chest retraction.

The wheezing and tight breathing may worsen for 2-3 days and then begin to improve. The wheezing may last more than 7 days and the cough more than 14 days. Children with bronchiolitis and bronchitis do not usually need to be hospitalised unless they need oxygen or intravenous fluids.

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What Should You Do?

Caregivers and parents can:

  • Manage the child’s fever with acetaminophen (paracetamol) when necessary
  • Maintain adequate hydration with small frequent feeding
  • Use nasal wash if the child’s nose is blocked. Gentle nasal suction may be helpful too
  • Disallow anyone in the house to smoke.

Previous Article About Coping With Sick Kids Under 5

The Common Cold

Stomach Flu

PrintThe Healthy Way is a regular health series developed for STORM.SG by Healthway Medical. If you have specific queries, please do email us at and we will ask the panel of experts for their advice. Do note that only selected queries will be addressed.


Preventing Bronchiolitis And Bronchitis

This is a contagious disease spread by sneezing, coughing or hand-to-nose contact. As such, it is advisable to:

  • Avoid crowded places to lower the risk of catching or spreading the virus
  • Not send the child to the childcare centre when he or she is still coughing.

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When To Seek Medical Attention

Bring your child to a doctor if you observe the following:

  • Cough is getting worse
  • Breathing becomes laboured or difficult
  • Breathing becomes faster than 60 breaths/minute (when the child is not crying)
  • Become irritable, lethargic or refuses to feed.


A Final Note from the Doctor

“Parents should note that antibiotics are prescribed only for the treatment of bacterial infections and not viral infections. Bronchiolitis and bronchitis are caused by viral infections and thus antibiotics will not help in its treatment. As these illnesses are contagious, it is advisable to identify them early, seek medical attention and take precautions to prevent them from spreading”, says Dr Wong.

Images: Shutterstock

Dr Wong Chin KhoonDr Wong Chin Khoon is a Paediatrician at SBCC Baby & Child Clinic, a member of Healthway Medical Group. He is also the Medical Director of the Paediatric Group of the Specialist Division of Healthway Medical Group. 

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