Current treatment for acute viral bronchiolitis in infants

Expert Opin Pharmacother. 2003 Aug;4(8):1355-71. doi: 10.1517/14656566.4.8.1355.


This paper provides an update and critical review of available data on the treatment of acute viral bronchiolitis in previously healthy infants, with special focus on new or promising therapies. The main potential benefits of medical assistance in these patients reside in the careful monitoring of their clinical status, the maintenance of adequate hydration and oxygenation, the preservation of the airway opened and cleared of secretions and the option to perform parental education. There is no convincing evidence that any other form of therapy will reliably provide beneficial effects in infants with bronchiolitis and currently, any treatment beyond supportive care should be prescribed on a case-by-case basis with watchful appraisal of its effects. Therapies such as ribavirin, IFN, vitamin A, antibiotics, mist therapy or anticholinergics, have not demonstrated any measurable clinical effect. Several studies and meta-analyses with beta(2)-agonists and corticosteroids have failed to show any benefit of significant extent, however, physicians keep favouring their use. Presently, adrenaline has received rather consistent support from clinical trials but it is not yet widely prescribed. There are other therapeutic strategies, for instance, heliox, hypertonic saline, noninvasive ventilation, physical therapy techniques, thickened feeds or palivizumab that have shown promising potential benefits, but evidence supporting its use is still limited and further studies should be warranted. In the meantime, infants with acute viral bronchiolitis should be treated following evidence-based clinical practice guidelines, keeping the patient central in the process and being sensitive to social, cultural and familiar influences on their treatment strategy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use
  • Bronchiolitis, Viral / complications
  • Bronchiolitis, Viral / drug therapy*
  • Fluid Therapy
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Mucus / physiology
  • Ribavirin / therapeutic use
  • Steroids


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Antiviral Agents
  • Steroids
  • Ribavirin