Acute Bronchitis in Children


What is acute bronchitis? Acute bronchitis is swelling and irritation in the airways of your child's lungs. This irritation may cause him to cough or have trouble breathing. Bronchitis is often called a chest cold. Acute bronchitis lasts about 2 to 3 weeks.

What causes or increases my child's risk for acute bronchitis? Acute bronchitis is usually caused by a viral infection such as a cold. It can also be caused by a bacterial infection. Exposure to polluted air or cigarette smoke can increase your child's risk for acute bronchitis. His risk may also be increased if he has medical conditions such as asthma or allergies. Babies who are premature (born too early) also have a higher risk for bronchitis.

What are the signs and symptoms of acute bronchitis?

  • Dry cough or cough with mucus that may be clear, yellow, or green

  • Chest tightness or pain while coughing or taking a deep breath

  • Fever, body aches, and chills

  • Sore throat and runny or stuffy nose

  • Shortness of breath or wheezing

  • Headache

  • Fatigue

How is acute bronchitis diagnosed?Your child's healthcare provider will ask about your child's signs and symptoms. Tell him about other medical conditions your child may have. Your child's healthcare provider will examine your child and listen to his lungs. He may also take a chest x-ray to look for signs of infection such as pneumonia.

How is acute bronchitis treated?

  • NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If your child takes blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for him. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children under 6 months of age without direction from your child's healthcare provider.

  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much your child should take and how often he should take it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.

  • Cough medicine helps loosen mucus in your child's lungs and makes it easier to cough up. Do not give cold or cough medicines to children under 6 years of age. Ask your healthcare provider if you can give cough medicine to your child.

  • An inhaler gives medicine in a mist form so that your child can breathe it into his lungs. Your child's healthcare provider may give him one or more inhalers to help him breathe easier and cough less. Ask your child's healthcare provider to show you or your child how to use his inhaler correctly.

How can I care for my child when he has acute bronchitis?

  • Have your child rest. Rest will help his body get better.

  • Clear mucus from your baby's nose. Use a bulb syringe to remove mucus from your baby's nose. Squeeze the bulb and put the tip into one of your baby's nostrils. Gently close the other nostril with your finger. Slowly release the bulb to suck up the mucus. Empty the bulb syringe onto a tissue. Repeat the steps if needed. Do the same thing in the other nostril. Make sure your baby's nose is clear before he feeds or sleeps. The healthcare provider may recommend you put saline drops into your baby's nose if the mucus is very thick.
    Proper Use of Bulb Syringe

  • Have your child drink liquids as directed. Ask how much liquid your child should drink each day and which liquids are best for him. Liquids help to keep your child's air passages moist and make it easier for him to cough up mucus. If you are breastfeeding or feeding your child formula, continue to do so. Your baby may not feel like drinking his regular amounts with each feeding. Feed him smaller amounts of breast milk or formula more often if he is drinking less at each feeding.

  • Use a cool-mist humidifier. This will add moisture to the air and help your child breathe easier.

  • Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around your child. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can irritate your child's airway and cause lung damage over time. Ask the healthcare provider for information if you or your older child currently smokes and needs help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to the healthcare provider before you or your child uses these products.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child's breathing problems get worse, or he wheezes with every breath.

  • Your child is struggling to breathe. The signs may include:
    • Skin between the ribs or around his neck being sucked in with each breath (retractions)

    • Flaring (widening) of his nose when he breathes

    • Trouble talking or eating

  • Your child has a fever, headache, and a stiff neck.

  • Your child's lips or nails turn gray or blue.

  • Your child is dizzy, confused, faints, or is much harder to wake up than usual.

  • Your child has signs of dehydration such as crying without tears, a dry mouth or cracked lips. He may also urinate less or his urine may be darker than normal.

When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • Your child's fever goes away and then returns.

  • Your child's cough lasts longer than 3 weeks or gets worse.

  • Your child has new symptoms or his symptoms get worse.

  • You have any questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.


You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's caregivers to decide what care you want for your child.