Respiratory Syncytial Virus

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the most common cause of lower respiratory infection in infants. RSV is a virus. This virus affects the smaller airway branches. RSV can cause:

  • Common colds.

  • Bronchiolitis (swelling and mucus buildup in the smallest air passages of the lungs). Symptoms of RSV bronchiolitis include coughing, wheezing, breathing difficulty, and fever.

  • Pneumonia.

  • Dehydration from being unable to drink.

In severe cases, hospital care may be necessary. Children more likely to become sicker with RSV are:

  • Preterm and young infants.

  • Those with asthma or other chronic heart and lung problems.

  • Those with low immune systems.

Most of the time, RSV infections last about 1 week. The symptoms are usually worse around the second or third day, but the cough may last for weeks. Home treatment for bronchiolitis includes:

  • Bed rest. Use pillows to elevate your child's head, as this may make breathing a little easier. For infants, place a towel or pillow underneath the mattress pad.

  • A cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier in your child's room may help.

  • Avoid exposure to cigarette and other smoke which irritate the airway.

  • Increase clear liquids (water, fruit juice). For infants, the use of an oral rehydration solution (ORS) is preferred over plain water.

  • Suction the nose with a bulb syringe after placing a few drops of warm water or saline nose drops in each nostril to remove secretions.

An inhaled medicine may be prescribed for more severe wheezing and breathing difficulty.

There are many over-the-counter cold medicines. They do not cure or shorten symptoms. These medicines can have serious side effects and should not be used in infants or children younger than 6 years old.

You should have your child checked by a doctor if the symptoms are not getting better after 2 days of treatment. Call right away or go to the emergency room if your child becomes exhausted, has increased breathing difficulty, excessive wheezing, bluish lips or a gray-blue color to the skin, severe cough, very thick green or yellow nasal secretions, repeated vomiting, dehydration, or a high fever.