Bronchiolitis or Asthma

Is it bronchiolitis or asthma?


What is it?
Bronchiolitis is a chest infection caused by a virus, which affects the small airways of the lungs.

Who does it affect?
85% of cases in NZ affect babies under 12 months.

What are the symptoms?

  • Cough is the main symptom
  • Wheeze
  • Runny nose
  • Increased work of breathing

How does it differ asthma?

When the doctor listens to the child’s chest with a stethoscope, he/she is able to tell by what they can hear, whether it is more likely asthma or bronchiolitis, eg. the presence or absence of wheeze, crackles and other sounds. In kids over the age of 12 months, a trial of a bronchodilator like Salbutamol (reliever medicine) and whether there is any response to this, may also help decide the diagnosis. Salbutamol will not help symptoms in a child with bronchiolitis. Bronchiolitis is also highly infectious; asthma is not.

How is it treated?

Most of the management of bronchiolitis is monitoring and ensuring enough feeding and hydration. Most medicines (including inhalers, steroids and antibiotics), are of no help in a case of true bronchiolitis. Severe cases need to be sent to the hospital via ambulance where careful monitoring can be undertaken.

Ref: “Bronchiolitis: when to reassure and monitor and when to refer” child Health Respiratory Conditions www.bpac.org.nz  April 2017.


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