top of page

Bronchiolitis VS RSV: Is Your Baby Having Trouble Breathing?

Updated: Apr 18

Over the past two years, preventive measures for COVID-19, like physical distancing, mask-wearing and isolation, helped stop the spread of other viral infections - the most common of these being RSV (Respiratory Syncytial virus) and Rhinovirus (common cold).

In the last two years, there were very few instances of children being unwell with RSV or Bronchiolitis. However, we are now seeing children who have never been introduced to these viruses and who seem to be getting sick all the time. We are seeing a huge number of infants, both in the community and in hospitals with bronchiolitis.

As a parent or carer, it is not important which virus is causing your infant to have breathing difficulties, but it is important to know what to look out for and when to seek help.

What is RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus)?

Although it is certainly hard to pronounce 'Respiratory Syncytial Virus, it is important to be aware of the condition.

- RSV- Respiratory Syncytial Virus is the most common cause of respiratory and breathing infections in infants and young children.

- RSV can affect people of all ages and is usually a mild disease, but it can also cause serious illnesses such as bronchiolitis and pneumonia, particularly under 12 months of age.

- Most kids <2 yrs old will be infected with RSV at some stage.

- Once a child has had RSV, they are not protected against getting it again - you can get infected over and over.

RSV Symptoms

Cold-like symptoms usually occur first and then breathing difficulties may follow. Other RSV symptoms include:

- Runny or blocked nose

- Fever

- Coughing (worse over first 4-5 days)

- Wheezing and difficulty breathing

- May progress to bronchiolitis.

What is bronchiolitis?

- Bronchiolitis is a viral infection that causes inflammation in the lungs and small airways in children younger than 12 months old.

- The most common virus responsible is RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) however, other conditions such as Rhinovirus can also cause the condition.

- Babies are usually sick for 7-10 days and can be worst on days 3-5.

Bronchiolitis Symptoms

- Fast breathing

- Noisy breathing, sounding wheezy

- Increased effort of breathing

- Irritability and fever

- Difficulties eating and drinking – your infant may get dehydrated.

When to see a Doctor about bronchiolitis?

- Any baby younger than 3 months of age who has a fever or is unwell

- If your baby is having trouble breathing

- If your baby isn’t feeding or drinking normally – fewer wet nappies

- If your baby is changing colour in the face when they cough

- If your baby is pale and sweaty

- If you are worried.

Call an ambulance immediately if your baby is struggling to breathe or if their lips start to turn blue.

Bronchiolitis treatments

- Your baby will need rest.

- No specific medicines are used to treat bronchiolitis, although your baby may need paracetamol or ibuprofen if they are miserable with a fever and >3 months old.

- Antibiotics don’t help (as it is a virus - antibiotics treat bacteria).

- Saline nasal drops or sprays may help clear the nasal passages of mucus which will help your baby breathe more easily.

- Your baby may need oxygen - this is given in the hospital.

- Your baby may need help with drinking and feeding - giving small amounts of feed/drink more often can help.

- If in the hospital, your baby may need help with feeding via a drip and fluids or through a nasogastric tube.


Dr Lexi is an experienced general paediatrician specialising in the care of children (and their families) from birth-eighteen who experience a wide range of acute and chronic medical conditions (or clinical conditions). She is also a passionate educator and mother of 3.

Dr Lexi shares her expert videos as part of our Parents You've Got This Parenting Portal, our Expert Guide to Parenthood. To learn how to elevate your parenting skills with valuable insights and knowledge, explore our range of informative masterclasses held by leading health and medical experts.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute advice provided by your doctor or other healthcare professionals. The author of this information has made a considerable effort to ensure the information is in-line with current guidelines, codes and accepted clinical evidence at time of writing, is up-to-date at time of publication and relevant to Australian readers. The opinions and thoughts expressed in this article reflects the view of the author only and not the broader medical profession or her places of work. The author accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in this information.  We recommend you always consult a qualified health practitioner for individualised advice.

Baby experiencing trouble breathing due to RSV or Bronchiolitis


bottom of page