Bronchiolitis | Diagnosis & Treatment

How is bronchiolitis diagnosed?

Doctors usually diagnose bronchiolitis solely through physical examination and taking the history of your child, but they may order additional tests to rule out other diseases, such as pneumonia or asthma. To help the confirm the diagnosis, the doctor may also order:

  • chest x-rays - a diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones and organs onto film.
  • blood tests
  • pulse oximetry - an oximeter is a small machine that measures the amount of oxygen in the blood. To obtain this measurement, a small sensor (like a Band-Aid) is taped onto your child’s finger or toe. When the machine is on, a small red light can be seen in the sensor. The sensor is painless and the red light does not get hot.
  • nasopharyngeal swab - These tests quickly indicate the presence of RSV and other viruses.

What treatments are available for bronchiolitis?

Most cases of bronchiolitis are mild and can be treated at home. Because there is no cure for the disease (antibiotics don't work against bronchiolitis), the goal of treatment is to lessen any discomfort your child may be feeling from the symptoms. If the physician feels your child is stable enough to be treated at home, she may recommend:

  • increased fluid intake (giving your child more liquids)
  • frequent suctioning (with a bulb syringe) of your child's nose and mouth (to help get rid of thick secretions)
  • breathing treatments, as ordered by your child's doctor
  • keeping your child's head elevated while sleeping
  • medications (to help open your child's airways), as ordered by your child's doctor

If your infant is having severe breathing problems, he may be treated in the hospital. Here, treatment may include:

  • intravenous (IV) fluids if your child is unable to drink well
  • oxygen therapy
  • frequent suctioning of your child's nose and mouth (to help get rid of thick secretions)
  • breathing treatments, as ordered by your child's doctor

Your child's physician will determine the proper treatment plan, taking into consideration:

  • your baby's gestational age, overall health and medical history
  • your baby's tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies
  • extent of the condition
  • expectations for the course of the condition
  • your opinion or preference