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How to Differentiate Between Bronchiolitis and Pneumonia in Children

author image Melissa McNamara
Melissa McNamara is a certified personal trainer who holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and communication studies from the University of Iowa. She writes for various health and fitness publications while working toward a Bachelor of Science in nursing.
How to Differentiate Between Bronchiolitis and Pneumonia in Children
Fevers are usually higher with pneumonia. Photo Credit: Comstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Bronchiolitis is swelling and excess mucus in the bronchioles, which lead into your baby's lungs. Pneumonia is an infection inside the lungs. The only way to be certain of your child’s illness is by making a doctor’s appointment. Always consult with your doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment to reduce your child’s risk of serious complications.

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Step 1

Observe your child’s symptoms. Bronchiolitis starts similar to a common cold with nasal congestion, runny nose, low fever and a cough. Pneumonia has symptoms that resemble the flu, such as a fever over 102 degrees, accompanied by coughing, chills, muscle pain, fatigue and a headache. Both bronchiolitis and pneumonia cause rapid breathing, wheezing and possible bluish skin due to lack of oxygen.

Step 2

Review your child’s vaccination records. If he has had a vaccine for bacterium pneumococcus, it is likely not pneumonia, but a visit to his doctor is needed. The most common cause of bronchiolitis for young children is respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, for which there is currently no vaccine.

Step 3

Monitor your child’s chest discomfort between coughing spells. If her breathing is comfortable when not coughing, she likely does not have pneumonia.

Step 4

Finish all antibiotics if prescribed by your child’s doctor. If your child does not respond to the antibiotics, he may need a new antibiotic to destroy the bacteria causing pneumonia. This can also indicate a virus is causing the infection, which makes bronchiolitis a possible cause.

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