Colder weather often brings more viruses and infections, and it can be difficult to know whether your child just has a common cold or something more serious. In particular, it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish the common cold from an RSV infection. While your child will recover from a cold in a few days without help from a doctor, RSV can be more serious and may require medical intervention.
What Is RSV?
According to the CDC, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a virus that can cause symptoms similar to a cold: runny nose, loss of appetite, and coughing. These symptoms can last anywhere from one to two weeks. RSV can sometimes cause a fever but not always. This virus is very common and very contagious.
What Are the Dangers of RSV?
Most adults and children will recover from RSV on their own, with no medical intervention needed. However, RSV can be dangerous for some infants in the following situations:
- Premature babies
- Children under two who have heart or lung disease
- Infants and children with weakened immune systems, due to medication or illness
- Infants under 8 to 10 weeks old
RSV may also result in hospitalization for otherwise healthy infants 6 months and younger if they experience dehydration or difficulty breathing. The most common complication for infants and children is the RSV leading to pneumonia and bronchiolitis, which is inflammation of the lungs. These complications can make it hard for your baby to breathe due to the already small size of their airways, and medical intervention is necessary.
When Should I Call the Doctor?
You should call the doctor if your baby is showing any of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing – look for fast breathing (more than 60 breaths per minute), chest wall retractions (“caving-in” of the chest between and under the ribs), and/or nasal flaring with every breath. The spot at the base of the throat between collarbones may also be pulling inward with each breath.
- Cough accompanied by green, yellow, or gray mucus
- Refusing to breastfeed or take a bottle
- Dehydration (no tears when crying, little or no urine in diaper for at least 6 hours)
You need to get immediate medical attention if your baby is breathing rapidly or has blue-tinted fingernails or lips. This indicates a very low oxygen level, which will require supplemental oxygen right away.
How Is RSV Treated?
As long as your baby is not exhibiting the severe symptoms mentioned above, RSV can be treated and managed at home. You can use a cool-mist humidifier to help your baby breathe better. Clear your baby’s nose from sticky mucus build-up by using a bulb syringe, and make sure you give your baby plenty of fluids. If your baby has a fever, you can use non-aspirin medication, such as acetaminophen, to reduce the fever (carefully follow the directions on dosage).
If your baby has more severe symptoms, then you may need to go to the hospital where the baby will be treated with oxygen, IV fluids, and medication to help keep the airway open. Unfortunately, there is no cure for RSV, so the symptoms themselves are treated until the virus has run its course.
How Can I Prevent the Spread of RSV?
RSV is very contagious, but you can help prevent its spread by washing your hands often, staying home when you are sick, and not kissing your baby if you (or any of your other children) have cold-like symptoms. You can also ask other people to wash their hands before touching your baby and make sure to clean and disinfect the surfaces of your home. If you have a high-risk baby, then you should limit your baby’s time in daycare, if possible, and in large crowds of people.
Most babies and children will get over RSV on their own, but please contact us right away if you have any concerns at all about the symptoms your child is exhibiting. We can evaluate your child and provide further medical treatments assistance or refer you to a hospital for more involved care if necessary.