RSV: When to worry about your kid's cough
Sometimes a simple cough is really much more.
“RSV is respiratory syncytial virus,” said LaClaire Stewart, a pediatric hospitalist with Mary Black Physicians Group. “It is shorthand for the disease which is bronchiolitis. There are several viruses that can cause bronchiolitis, but RSV is the most common. Bronchiolitis is a lower respiratory tract infection. It’s a similar spot that affects asthma, so you will often see the same symptoms.”
January and February are the peak months for RSV. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost all children are infected with the virus by their second birthday, but only a small percentage develop severe disease.
“It’s a viral infection, so just like a cold, there isn’t really a treatment – time and patience are the best,” Stewart said. “The kids who need to come into the hospital are usually younger. Bronchiolitis affects kids under 2 and the ones in the hospital are most commonly under 1. Under 2, they have more symptoms because of their age and size.”
The best prevention is simply good hand washing and staying away from those who are sick, according to Stewart.
“Avoid smoking or places where people have been smoking,” Stewart said. “Don’t send babies to day care when they are sick.”
But cleanliness and avoidance won’t be 100 percent effective. Some children will still get RSV.
“You can do all the right stuff,” Stewart said. “It doesn’t mean you are a bad parent. It’s winter and kids get sick.”
At home, parents can take some steps to help children be more comfortable. For very young children, Stewart recommends putting saline drops in the nose and using a bulb suction. Elevating the head can help with drainage and using a humidifier may make children feel more comfortable while they are congested.
If a baby younger than 3 months of age has a temperature above 100.4 degrees, the baby should be seen by a pediatrician immediately, Stewart said.
Children may also have pneumonia or ear infections in addition to RSV.
“You’ll often hear wheezing even without a stethoscope,” Stewart said. “If they are wheezing, breathing fast or working hard to breathe, that’s a sign that someone needs to take a look at that.”
In the hospital, treatment may include supplemental oxygen, breathing treatments and IV fluids, if needed.
“For babies under 2 months, we put them on a monitor to make sure they don’t have apnea,” Stewart said. “We have a low threshold for babies under 2 months.”
If parents are concerned that their child has something more than a simple cold, Stewart said they should seek medical help.
“I think parents have pretty good instincts,” she said. “If you think your child is working hard to breathe and it’s more than a runny nose, take them to your doctor. Parents are usually dead on. They know.”