If your infant comes down with the sniffles, it is best not to take it lightly. Although it could just be an ordinary cold, the infection known as RSV shares many similar initial symptoms. For this reason, it is important to get infants checked out anytime they seem a little under the weather.
But remember not to panic, as RSV is easily treatable when caught early and brought to the attention of your child’s doctor. To help you move forward with confidence, here’s a look at all you need to know to help determine whether your child has a cold or RSV.
What is RSV?
Properly known as a respiratory syncytial virus, RSV is a common viral infection that affects the upper respiratory tract. It is so common and infectious that the vast majority of children catch it by their second birthday.
Even the youngest kids can easily fight off this infection and make a full recovery without experiencing anything more than cold symptoms. In a few cases, however, the RSV infection progresses and causes serious complications, including pneumonia and bronchiolitis.
Since lung infections and airway inflammation can happen quickly, it is important to have infants closely watched by their healthcare provider at the first sign of cold symptoms.
Cold vs. RSV Symptoms
RSV infections often start with minor cold symptoms, such as:
- Runny nose
Since they cannot easily breathe through their nose due to congestion, many infants exhibit difficulties feeding as well. If your infant just has a cold, the virus will run its course within 10 to 14 days. It’s still important to see a medical professional at the first sign of symptoms and to follow the recheck schedule given at that time.
During the visits, your nurse or doctor will look for the common signs of worsening RSV infections. These signs include:
- Rapid breathing
- Nostril flaring
Babies with RSV also tend to grunt or bob their heads while breathing due to their difficulties in getting enough air. Your healthcare provider will also check for belly breathing and retraction of the ribs with each breath. If they notice these signs, they may send your child to the children’s hospital.
The level of care infants needs for RSV infections depends on the severity of their symptoms. If your child has mild symptoms, an examination may allow you to start treatment at home.
At-home care may require suctioning out the infant’s nose with a bulb syringe or nasal aspirator several times a day. If any medications are advised to control symptoms, administer them as directed to keep your infant comfortable. Throughout this process, you will need to watch for any worsening symptoms and promptly report them to your care provider as well.
If severe symptoms develop, your infant may need to stay in a hospital overnight or longer. During the hospital stay, physicians may elect to rehydrate your child with IV fluids or provide oxygen through the nostrils. They will also clear out the airways with suction several times a day to keep mucus from building up in those passageways.
Across all severity levels, RSV tends to take between one and two weeks to resolve. Throughout that time, the condition will likely remain highly contagious, so keep the little patient away from others until he or she is feeling well again.
Delaying RSV Infections
Wheezing and asthma is common in kids who get this condition before six months of age, especially for those younger than three months. For that reason, it is important to take precautionary measures to help delay your infant coming down with this infection. Despite your best efforts, however, it is not always possible to fully prevent this illness, as it is so contagious and prevalent in most communities.
To delay RSV for as long as possible, you can use these preventative tactics:
- Have everyone wash their hands before holding your baby
- Do not allow anyone to kiss your infant, including yourself
- Avoid holding their bottles or pacifiers in your mouth
- Thoroughly wash all baby gear, especially after going out
- Cover your infant when they are out in public
When you make the effort to protect your child from RSV, you give them a chance to grow older before facing this viral infection. Even the youngest babies can make a quick and full recovery, however, especially with prompt care from a medical professional.
So, if you notice any cold symptoms, including just a runny nose, schedule an appointment for your infant to get an examination to determine if you are dealing with a cold or RSV. If it’s RSV, you can begin a detailed care plan to help your baby stay comfortable while recovering from the virus.