Forms of Albuterol for RSV Bronchiolitis

Little girl using inhaler / nebulizer
Albuterol for RSV. rafalkrakow/Getty Images

Should your child be given albuterol syrup or albuterol inhalation solution for RSV, and do these treatments work at all? What do you need to know as a parent?

Inhaled vs Oral Albuterol

In general, an inhaled form of albuterol works better, faster, and has fewer side effects than the oral form, like from albuterol syrup. At the same time, it is the easiest and least expensive option. Let's expand on each of these points.

Since you need a nebulizer machine to give breathing treatments with albuterol, it is not always the most convenient or least expensive option for children with bronchiolitis and mild symptoms. 

You can also give inhaled albuterol to young children using a metered dose inhaler with a spacer and mask, like the Aerochamber Plus valved holding chamber. Again, because of the extra cost of the spacer and mask, this isn't an inexpensive option either.

Why does oral albuterol have more side effects? It makes sense when you consider that to work in a child's lungs, oral albuterol has to go through the stomach and then get absorbed into the bloodstream and then make its way to the lungs. Along the way, it has a lot of chances to affect other parts of your body. On the other hand, an inhaled form of albuterol goes straight to the lungs. While they can still cause side effects, in general, they are not as common or as strong as with oral albuterol.

And the inhaled forms of albuterol should work faster too.

Albuterol for Bronchiolitis

The use of albuterol for bronchiolitis is also controversial. Many studies have shown no benefit to using albuterol, either the oral form or inhaled albuterol, to treat children with RSV and bronchiolitis. Many doctors still believe that albuterol works for these children with bronchiolitis though, and they will try a breathing treatment and then prescribe albuterol if the child seems to improve.

Albuterol as a Cough Medicine

It is also important to keep in mind that albuterol really isn't a cough medicine. It may help if a child's cough is being caused by wheezing, like from asthma or bronchiolitis, but not if you have a simple cold.

Albuterol for Asthma

While there is controversy over using albuterol for bronchiolitis, albuterol inhalers clearly have a role in asthma. At times there can be an overlap of these conditions, and having RSV bronchiolitis is a risk factor for developing asthma later on.

Changing Pediatricians and Being Your Own Advocate

Your pediatrician should be able to answer your questions for you, either during the visit or with a call later on if they are too busy. If your doctor really 'answered' your questions by saying 'he could do nothing' and then walked out, you should likely look for another pediatrician. Check out these tips for finding the right doctor for your child's medical care. Remember that you have choices and are essentially 'hiring' a doctor to care for your family. It's important to feel comfortable and trust that your pediatrician will work together with you as a team. After all, nobody knows your child as well as you do.

Bronchiolitis and RSV Prevention

It's often said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and that's true for RSV as well.

  Learn about RSV and bronchiolitis prevention.


Piedra, P., and A. Stark. Bronchiolitis in infants and children: Treatment; outcome; and prevention. UpToDate. Updated 03/24/16.

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