Medical Author:

John Mersch, MD, FAAP

Medical Editor:
David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP

David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP

David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP

Dr. Perlstein received his Medical Degree from the University of Cincinnati and then completed his internship and residency in pediatrics at The New York Hospital, Cornell medical Center in New York City. After serving an additional year as Chief Pediatric Resident, he worked as a private practitioner and then was appointed Director of Ambulatory Pediatrics at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx.

Bronchiolitis facts

  • Bronchiolitis is a viral illness caused seen most commonly during the winter season.
  • Bronchiolitis is caused by many viruses. The most common viral trigger is the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
  • Symptoms of bronchiolitis include nasal congestion and moderate non-purulent (doesn't contain pus) nasal discharge associated with pulmonary distress that may range from mild to severe.
  • Bronchiolitis is diagnosed based on the person's signs and symptoms, age, season of the year, findings on physical exam, assessment of the patient's blood oxygenation, and a nasal swab to determine the specific viral cause.
  • Bronchiolitis is generally a self-limited disease and can be treated at home. Most children do not require medications; however, high-risk infants and toddlers may need to be hospitalized due to respiratory distress and/or to maintain hydration.
  • Bronchiolitis prevention strategies range from thorough hand washing by caregivers to rare administration of palivizumab (Synagis) to infants of selected high-risk.
  • The prognosis for a person with bronchiolitis is excellent.

What is bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis is a viral infection affecting both the upper respiratory region (nose, mouth and throat) and lower respiratory tract (lungs). It is an illness in which effects are most severe in children under two years of age. Bronchiolitis is most commonly seen during the winter season (November thru March in the northern hemisphere).

What is the difference between bronchiolitis and bronchitis?

Since the terms "bronchiolitis" and "bronchitis" are very similar, there may be confusion regarding each diagnosis. The difference between the two terms depends upon the anatomical area of the lungs that is infected.

  • The bronchioles are very small and delicate airways that lead directly to the alveoli.
  • Alveoli are the microscopic "cul de sacs" of the lung tree.
  • The alveoli are where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide occurs.
  • Bronchi are much larger "pipes" which make up the first two to three branches of the lungs immediately after the trachea (windpipe).
  • Bronchiolitis is an infant to early childhood illness.
  • Most pediatric pulmonary specialists believe that bronchitis is never seen in this age range, but is more likely seen in teens and adults.
  • Cigarette smoke exposure is a predisposing factor for both diseases.
  • Both bronchiolitis and bronchitis are viral infections and do not require antibiotics.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/18/2015

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Bronchiolitis – ExperienceQuestion: Please share your experience with an infant or child’s bronchiolitis.
Bronchiolitis – SymptomsQuestion: What symptoms did your infant or child have with bronchiolitis?
Bronchiolitis – Home RemediesQuestion: What home remedies and/or therapies helped soothe your infant’s or child’s bronchiolitis?
Bronchiolitis – Medical TreatmentQuestion: What medical treatment did your infant or child have for bronchiolitis?