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What to do when your child has a cold and is having difficulty breathing

Your child could have bronchiolitis

Bronchiolitis is a viral infection that affects our breathing

It is most common in children under 2 years.

The infection causes the airways to swell and fill with mucus.

Many viruses can cause Bronchiolitis, but the most common is Respiratory Syncytial Virus or RSV.

RSV is most common in the winter months.


Common symptoms include:

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Runny nose

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Coughing / wheezing

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Dehydration / no wet diapers

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Symptoms are worse in the first 5 days and can last up to 10 days.

In some children, coughing may continue for a few weeks.

Symptoms other parents saw

Risk factors

baby wheezing

Here's what you can do

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Tips for managing your child's syptoms at home

Dealing with coughs

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  • Sitting upright may help your child breathe easier

  • Cool mist humidifiers may help lessen congestion

  • Avoid over-the-counter cough medications. They can have harmful side effects in children and are NOT recommended in children under 6 years of age.

Dealing with nasal congestion

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  • Clean your child’s nose with a nasal aspirator (e.g., Hydrasense™, Nosefrieda™) or bulb syringe and an over the counter salt water water nose spray. Follow the directions provided, and clean their nose as often as needed throughout the day. (especially before meals and sleep times.)

Eating and drinking

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  • Your child may not want to eat much when they are sick, and that is ok.

  • Your child may not want to drink as much as they usually do, but continue to offer small amounts of clear fluids throughout the day so they stay hydrated (e.g., water, milk, juice, clear soup, etc.).

  • Babies should continue to breast or bottle feed as usual.

Fever and discomfort

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  • You may give Acetaminophen (Tylenol® or Tempra®) or Ibuprofen (Advil® or Motrin®) to keep your child comfortable. Use as directed on the packaging or instructed by a health care provider.

Prevent spreading bronchiolitis


Keep you child away from others while they are coughing, if possible. Teach your child to cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.


Wash hands often, especially before and after eating, coughing, or sneezing.

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Avoid exposing children to cigarette smoke. Smoking has been linked to higher risk of infection.

When to visit the emergency department

Seek emergency care if your child has the following symptoms

Confused or unsure? let's get help

Telephone health advice is available in many Provinces and Territories.

Click on your location to find out where you can get help. You will be directed to your Provincial or Territorial health website for the most up to date telehealth information in your area.

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"Here's what you can do"


baby wheezing

Because bronchiolitis is a viral infection, antibiotics will not help. In most cases, children will recover on their own if they have no other infections and are kept hydrated.

Some children with severe bronchiolitis may need to stay in the hospital for a few days to get oxygen and extra fluids.

Useful links

Learn more!

MyHealth Alberta - Bronchiolitis

This site was built by the Alberta Government and Alberta Health Services to give Albertans one place to go for health information they can trust.

HEAL - Cough & Wheeze (Bronchiolitis)

This site is a resource aimed at providing families across Alberta easily accessible, reliable information about common minor illness and injuries in children.