What To Do If Your Child Gets RSV, According To A Pediatrician

RSV has been all over the news recently and appears to be running rampant. A widespread illness is bad enough, but based on the news stories, RSV seems to be affecting young children the most. Many parents still aren't sure exactly what the illness is or what to do if their child becomes ill with RSV.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a respiratory virus that causes infections to occur in the lungs and respiratory tract, affecting breathing and causing other health issues (per Mayo Clinic). It is extremely common with most children experiencing the illness by their 2nd birthday. In an exclusive interview with Health Digest, Dr. Denise Scott, M.D., a JustAnswer pediatrician, provided counsel on the issue. "Anyone, any age can get RSV, but young children who attend daycare or who have older siblings in school are at greater risk. Children with any underlying heart or lung issues, including asthma, can be more severely affected, as are those under one year of age and in particular those under six months."

With COVID-19 still in the back of everyone's mind, it's essential to understand the symptoms of RSV so that you know how to act if your child becomes infected. "The distinguishing symptoms of RSV compared to other respiratory viruses is the progression of symptoms from simply a runny nose to a very frequent cough within a couple of days," explains Dr. Scott. So, what are the recognizable symptoms of RSV?

RSV produces a unique cough

According to Dr. Scott, the symptoms of RSV seem to follow a recognizable pattern of progression. "Symptoms start similar to cold symptoms with a clear runny nose (that sometimes runs like a faucet!) for the first 48-72 hours." The virus then causes a persistent "nonproductive, raspy cough" to develop. She advises that the cough, related to wheezing, which may be inaudible, gets so bad that children often vomit. The progression continues with increased difficulty breathing and "grunting respirations (a grunt or whine when exhaling)." Dr. Scott adds that other common symptoms include decreased appetite and fever, with all symptoms peaking on days five through seven and lasting for two to three weeks.

Dr. Scott confirms the cough is the major giveaway indicating RSV, "Other viruses that begin with cold symptoms usually cause an intermittent congested or juicy cough, not the dry, raspy, frequent cough of RSV." While the unusual cough should be concerning, it is a sign to alert parents or infected individuals to take appropriate action. "RSV causes symptoms of the lower respiratory tract with wheezing, which a few other viruses can also cause, but the common cold will not do this," she specifies.

Being able to differentiate RSV from COVID-19 and other severe illnesses like influenza may provide parents with some relief. Dr. Scott notes that although they all affect the respiratory system, COVID has the additional unique symptom of loss of smell and taste and can impact the gastrointestinal tract. Influenza, too, differs from RSV as its symptoms usually present with severity at the same time.

RSV should be closely monitored

According to Dr. Scott, parents who suspect RSV should closely monitor their children for fever and "respiratory distress." She explains that this includes "fast breathing, making funny noises with breathing, audible wheezing, and chest retractions where you see the skin suck in between the ribs with breathing." Luckily there are a few things parents can do at home to help children with an RSV infection. Dr. Scott mentions that if a fever occurs, it should be treated, and parents should keep children well hydrated, looking for urine output to occur every four to six hours. She concludes, "use a humidifier by the bedside at night" to aid breathing.

While it seems RSV is manageable and home treatment is promising, there is a line it can cross that will demand more attention. Dr. Scott advises, "Any signs of difficulty breathing, dehydration, or high fever warrant a doctor visit."

For helpful answers and more information about Dr. Denise Scott M.D., you can visit Feed Future Health and Just Answer.