Acute Bronchitis, Child
Acute Bronchitis, Child

About this topic

Acute bronchitis is a problem with your child’s lungs. It can last for a short time or for a longer time. The lining of the airways to the lungs
are irritated and swollen. It is a mild health problem that most often goes away on its own.

What are the causes?

  • Virus − the most common cause in children
  • Bacteria − more common in children older than 6 years of age
  • Allergens and dust
  • Fumes and chemical cleaners
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Smog or high levels of air pollution

What can make this more likely to happen?

  • Common cold or upper respiratory infection
  • Asthma
  • Close contact with a person who has bronchitis
  • Secondhand smoke exposure
  • Smog and high levels of air pollution
  • Long-term (chronic) sinus infection
  • Allergies
  • Enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids
  • Crowded conditions

What are the main signs?

  • Slight fever
  • Chills
  • Overall body aches or pain
  • Back and muscle pain
  • Runny nose, more often before cough starts
  • Sore throat
  • Cough, begins dry, then with mucus that may be thick, yellow, green, blood-streaked
  • Throwing up or gagging with cough
  • Breathing problems like wheezing or shortness of breath

Your child should feel better in 7 to 14 days, but signs can last for 3 to 4 weeks.

How does the doctor diagnose this health problem?

The doctor will ask about your child’s signs and history and do an exam.

The doctor may order:

  • Blood tests
  • Chest x-ray
  • Pulse oximetry to see how much oxygen is in the blood
  • Arterial blood gas to see how much oxygen and carbon dioxide are in the blood
  • Culture of nasal discharge and sputum
  • Pulmonary function test (PFT) or spirometry to see how well the lungs are working

How does the doctor treat this health problem?

Most care is aimed at relieving the signs and includes:

  • Drinking more liquids, formula, or breast milk
  • Cool mist humidifier

What drugs may be needed?

Your doctor may order drugs to:

  • Lower fever
  • Help with pain
  • Control coughing
  • Help wheezing

What problems could happen?

  • Pneumonia

What can be done to prevent this health problem?

  • Teach your child to always cover a cough with the inside of the arm
  • Teach your child to wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after coughing or sneezing. Alcoholbased hand sanitizers also work to kill germs. Teach your child to sing the Happy Birthday song or the ABCs while washing
  • If your child has a cold, have your child stay home from work or school. Wear a mask to help prevent spreading the infection.
  • Do not get too close (kissing, hugging) to people who are sick. Ask visitors who have a cold to wear a mask ir to reschedule their
  • Do not share towels or hankies with anyone who is sick. Teach your child to discard used tissues immediately.
  • Keep your child away from things that may bother the lungs like tobacco smoke, dust, or fumes.
  • Stay away from crowded places
  • Make sure your child gets a flu shot each year.

Helpful tips

  • Do not give cough and cold medicines to children younger than 2 years old. They can cause serious side effects.
  • Most often acute bronchitis in children is caused by a virus. Antibiotics will not work against a virus.

Where can I learn more?

American Academy of Family Physicians

NHS Choices