Medicines and treatments for bronchiolitis

Bronchiolitis is most often caused by a virus, so antibiotics — which work against bacteria, not viruses — will not help your child recover from the illness.

Most children will have a mild infection, and will recover from bronchiolitis with symptom relief to make them comfortable.

Children who are very unwell, and babies who are premature, born with a heart or lung problem (congenital disease), have leukaemia or a weakened immune system, are more likely to have more severe illness and may develop other complications such as a secondary bacterial infection. These children may need antibiotic treatment or even hospitalisation.

How do I relieve the symptoms of bronchiolitis?

  • Keep your child at home from day care or school.
  • Check on your child regularly, including during the night.
  • Make sure your child rests, and drinks plenty of water or is breastfed (or given formula) in small amounts frequently.

If you are concerned, or your child’s symptoms get worse very quickly, seek medical advice.

Find out more about the symptoms of bronchiolitis and how bronchiolitis is diagnosed.

Medicines for relieving the symptoms of bronchiolitis

There are medicines you can take to help manage the symptoms of bronchiolitis. These include:

  • paracetamol and ibuprofen for relieving pain and fever (see below)
  • decongestants and saline nasal sprays or drops for relieving a blocked nose.

Medicines for relieving pain and fever

  • Adults and children older than 1 month can take paracetamol.
  • Adults and children older than 3 months can take ibuprofen.
  • The correct dose of paracetamol or ibuprofen for children is worked out according to how much your child weighs.
  • Some people may not be able to take paracetamol or ibuprofen.
  • Do not give aspirin for pain or fever to children younger than 12 years as it may cause serious side effects (e.g. Reye’s syndrome, see below).
  • Do not use aspirin for fever in children younger than 16 years. This is because Reye’s syndrome, which can affect brain function and cause liver damage, has been associated with aspirin use in children (this is rare i.e. fewer than 1 in 1000 people will experience the side effect).

Fevers are common in young children, especially if they have a chest infection or after a vaccination. A fever (a temperature of 38.5°C or higher) doesn’t necessarily mean your child has a serious illness. In fact, a fever helps the body's immune system to fight infection.

Read more about how to treat a fever and measuring and administering a child’s dose of medicine.

Some tips for using pain and fever medicines safely

  • Paracetamol (and ibuprofen) is also a common ingredient in some cold and flu medicines, so it is important to check the active ingredients on the label of your medicine to avoid 'doubling up' and taking other medicines that also contain paracetamol.
  • It is important that you tell your health professional about all the medicines you or anyone in your care is taking — including prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines (herbal, ’natural’, vitamin or mineral supplements). This is because all medicines, including herbal and natural medicines, can cause side effects and may interact with other medicines.
  • Some medicines cannot be taken by people with particular medical conditions, by people who are also taking certain other medicines, by young children, during pregnancy or when breastfeeding.

To choose the best medicine for you or your child ask your pharmacist or doctor for advice and always read the label on your medicine.

Who can I ask about side effects?

If you’re concerned that you or someone in your care may have had side effects related to a medicine, seek medical advice. People with questions about their medicines or seeking general information about side effects can also call the NPS Medicines Line on 1300 633 424 (Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm).To report possible side effects call the Adverse Medicine Events (AME) line on 1300 134 237 from anywhere in Australia (Monday–Friday, 9am–5pm AEST).

Nasal spray and dropper bottles

Nasal decongestants can be tablets, sprays, or drops. Image: Elena Schweitzer/Shutterstock.com

Medicines for relieving a blocked nose (nasal congestion)

Intranasal decongestants can help to relieve a blocked nose, but should not be used for more than 4 or 5 consecutive days to avoid rebound nasal congestion.

Medicated nasal decongestants must not be used in babies younger than 6 months, as rebound congestion may cause breathing difficulty. Decongestants containing pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine, oxymetazoline or xylometazoline must not be used in children younger than 6 years. Use salt water (saline) nasal sprays or drops instead of a nasal decongestant for these children.

Read more about nasal decongestants.

Before using any medicine, check with a doctor or pharmacist about the safest one for you or your child. Always read the information on the label and the consumer medicine information (CMI) leaflet that comes with your medicine.

See your doctor if your symptoms get worse or if your symptoms don’t improve after 10 days.

Phone for medicines information

Call NPS Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) to get information about your prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines (herbal, ‘natural’, vitamins and mineral supplements) from a pharmacist. Your call will be answered by healthdirect Australia.

References
  • Rossi S, ed. eAMH [online]. Adelaide: Australian Medicines Handbook, July 2012.
  • Respiratory Expert Group. Therapeutic guidelines: Acute bronchiolitis. In: eTG complete [online]. Melbourne: Therapeutic Guidelines Limited, 2012 (accessed 27 March 2012).
  • Spurling GKP, Doust J, Del Mar CB, Eriksson L. Antibiotics for bronchiolitis in children. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 6. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD005189.pub3.
  • NHS Choices – Bronchiolitis: www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Bronchiolitis/Pages/Introduction.aspx (accessed 10 April 2012).