When you are suffering from symptoms like nasal congestion, cough and fever, you might assume you are fighting the flu – especially during our pretty nasty flu season this year!  There are plenty of viruses that cause these symptoms, one of which is respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, which is a virus that we think of, most often in kids.  

RSV causes a lung infection and, unlike a common cold which infects the upper airways, this infects the lower airways (bronchiolitis).  In young children, it is one of the major causes of respiratory illness and one of the most common reasons for children and infants to require hospitalization for pneumonia, bronchiolitis, or respiratory failure.

Although a majority of children recover from this disease within a few weeks, in some cases respiratory syncytial virus infections can be severe, especially in infants and premature babies that have underlying health conditions.  In addition, RSV may become serious in anyone who has a weakened immune system, adults with lung and heart diseases, or in older adults.

Common RSV Symptoms               

RSV symptoms differ in severity, from severe to mild, and vary with age. It is very important to note that although many children do get infected with this virus, only a small percentage of children develop serious complications or symptoms.  

Parents should closely monitor their children for the following RSV symptoms:

  •         Persistent vomiting or refusal to eat
  •         Irritability or fever
  •         Wheezing or coughing
  •         Rapid or labored breathing
  •         Bluish nail color or skin due to lack of oxygen

Signs of a severe or worsening illness include a worsening cough that produces gray, green or yellow mucus, thick nasal discharge, high fever or difficulty breathing.  If symptoms worsen call a doctor immediately.

Diagnosing and Treating RSV

When your child has any of the above symptoms and you go to the doctor, the physician will evaluate your child and may perform a chest x-ray or nasal secretion test  (with a cotton-tipped swab) if necessary to diagnose RSV.  Mild infections tend to last around a week and usually go away without treatment other than symptomatic relief.

Medication might be prescribed to help open up the airways.  However, usually, for mild cases the only treatment needed is rest:

  • Provide plenty of fluids. For infants, fluids should be offered at more frequent intervals in small amounts.
  • In infants, use a bulb syringe or nasal aspirator to remove any sticky nasal fluids.  A nasal steroid spray may help loosen up extra secretions.
  • Use a non-aspirin medicine such as acetaminophen to treat a fever or motrin in children over 6 months old.  Aspirin is not recommended in children.

How To Prevent RSV From Spreading

RSV is a highly contagious condition.  It is spread via virus-containing droplets throughout the air which are coughed or sneezed from an infection person. When these droplets come into contact with another person’s eye, nose, or mouth they can become infected.  Indirect contact can also cause an infection, like touching a doorknob tor handrail that has been touched by someone infected with the RSV virus.

There is no vaccine to prevent RSV.   You may be able to avoid infection by taking the following common-sense precautions:

  •         Cover your sneezes and coughs.
  •         Wash your hands, especially before picking up your infant
  •         Avoid sharing eating utensils and cups.
  •         Use a disinfectant for cleaning hard surfaces that are touched by many people (remote controls, telephones, doorknobs, etc.)
  •         Limit the contact that your infant has with individuals who have colds or fevers.
  •         Don’t smoke. Babies who have been exposed to tobacco smoke will have higher risks of developing the more severe symptoms associated with RSV.

Like many illnesses, RSV will often resolve on its own, however, it’s important to remember the above signs of severe disease and seek care immediately when you notice them in your child.


If you or your child are experiencing symptoms of RSV and you can safely come to ER Specialists, we would love to help you.  If you are alone or have any doubt about getting to our facility safely, or, believe you are experiencing a medical emergency please call 911. 

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