Acute Bronchitis in Children
Bronchitis is an inflammation of the large breathing tubes (bronchi)
in the lungs. The illness can be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). Acute
bronchitis means that the symptoms often develop quickly and don’t last long. Most
Acute bronchitis is most often
caused by a viral infection. It may also be caused by bacteria or things, such as
allergens, strong fumes, or tobacco smoke.
In children, the most common cause
of acute bronchitis is a virus. The illness may develop after a cold or other viral
infection in the nose, mouth, or throat (upper respiratory tract). Such illnesses
spread easily from direct contact with a person who is sick.
Children who have a higher chance
of developing acute bronchitis are those who have:
These are the most common
- Dry or mucus-filled cough
- Vomiting or gagging
- Runny nose, often before a cough
- Chest congestion or pain
- An overall body discomfort or not
- Slight fever
- Back and muscle pain
- Sore throat
These symptoms often last 7 to 14
days. But the cough may continue for 3 to 4 weeks. These symptoms may look like other
health problems. Make sure your child sees their healthcare provider for a
Your child’s healthcare provider
can often diagnose acute bronchitis with a health history and physical exam. In some
cases, your child may need tests to rule out other health problems, such as pneumonia
asthma. These tests may include:
Chest X-rays. This test makes images
of internal tissues, bones, and organs.
Pulse oximetry. An oximeter is a
small device that measures the amount of oxygen in the blood. For this test, the
healthcare provider puts a small sensor (like a clip) on your child's finger or toe.
When the device is on, a small red light can be seen in the sensor. The sensor is
painless, and the red light does not get hot.
Sputum and nasal discharge samples.
These tests can find the germ causing an infection.
Treatment will depend on your
child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the
In nearly all cases, antibiotics
shouldn't be used to treat acute bronchitis. That’s because most of the infections
caused by viruses. Even children who have been coughing for longer than 8 to 10 days
often don't need antibiotics. Antibiotics aren't used unless your child has a bacterial
The goal of treatment is to help
ease symptoms. Treatment may include:
- Plenty of rest
- Acetaminophen or ibuprofen (for
children over 6 months) for fever and mild pain, if directed by your child’s
- Cough medicine for children over 4
years old, if directed by your child’s healthcare provider
- More fluids
- Cool-mist humidifier in your child’s
Talk with your child’s healthcare
provider before giving over-the-counter cough and cold medicine to your child. The
American Academy of Pediatrics does not advise giving these medicines to children
younger than 4 years old because they may cause harmful side effects. For children
between ages 4 and 6, only use over-the-counter products when advised by your child's
healthcare provider. In most cases, also don’t give antihistamines. They can dry up
secretions. That can make the cough worse.
Never give aspirin to a child or teen. It could cause a rare but
serious condition called Reye syndrome. This is a rare but very serious disorder.
most often affects the brain and the liver.
Most children who have acute bronchitis will get better without any
problems. But the illness can lead to pneumonia.
You can help prevent acute
bronchitis by stopping the spread of viruses that may lead to it. Take these steps:
- Teach your child to cover their nose
and mouth when coughing or sneezing.
- Make sure your child washes their
- Keep your child up-to-date on all
vaccines, including the yearly flu shot.
- Keep your child away from others who are sick. If your child is
sick, keep them away from others.
When to Call a Healthcare Provider
Call your child’s healthcare
provider right away if your child’s symptoms get worse, if new symptoms develop, or
911 if any of the following occur:
- Has trouble breathing
- Turns blue in color, especially the lips or fingertips
- Is breathing very fast
- Bronchitis is an inflammation of the
large breathing tubes (bronchi) in the lungs. Acute bronchitis means that the
symptoms often develop quickly and don’t last long.
- In children, the most common cause of
acute bronchitis is a virus.
- A cough, fever, runny nose, and body
aches are common symptoms.
- Treatment is aimed at easing symptoms.
It may include plenty of rest and fluids. Medicines for fever or cough may also
- Antibiotics aren't needed, unless the
cause is a bacterial infection.
Tips to help you get the most from
a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
- Know the reason for the visit and what
you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down
questions you want answered.
- At the visit, write down the name of a
new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new
instructions your provider gives you for your child.
- Know why a new medicine or treatment
is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects
- Ask if your child’s condition can be
treated in other ways.
- Know why a test or procedure is
recommended and what the results could mean.
- Know what to expect if your child does
not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
- If your child has a follow-up
appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
- Know how you can contact your child’s
provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have
questions or need advice.