Board Certified Pediatric Emergency Physician Dr. Ronnie Waldrop and Erin Rovelli, RN serve patients at the Children’s Emergency Room at Inova Loudoun Hospital – Loudoun County’s only emergency facility solely dedicated to caring for children and adolescents.

Winter is prime time for colds, flu and other viral infections. In fact, most children suffer from at least one viral infection every winter.

Fortunately, children with common viral infections usually recover on their own. Sometimes, though, these illnesses require evaluation and treatment from a pediatrician or emergency doctor.

This month, we’re taking a closer look at 5 common winter viruses in children. Here’s your guide to identifying and treating respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.

What is RSV?

RSV is the most common viral respiratory illness of the winter season. Symptoms include fever, congestion and cough (including a barking “croupy” cough) in the upper airways.

Sometimes RSV can lead to bronchiolitis, in which the smallest airways of the lungs become inflamed. In fact, RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in babies less than 1 year old in the United States.

RSV infections can range from mild to severe, and can lead to respiratory distress.

Signs of respiratory distress include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Persistent cough
  • Grunting with breathing
  • Chest muscles retracting with each breath
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased oxygen saturation (as measured by a healthcare provider)

If your child shows signs of respiratory distress, contact your doctor or visit an urgent care clinic or hospital emergency room.

Diagnosing and Treating RSV

Doctors diagnose RSV after performing a physical examination and taking a medical history. Sometimes, they will test nasal secretions for the presence of the virus.

In many cases, parents can treat children with RSV at home, by giving fever-reducing medications and using a bulb to suction mucus from the nose. Antibiotics are not effective treatments for illnesses caused by viruses, including RSV.

It may be necessary to hospitalize your child if he or she is unable to eat or drink, is under significant respiratory distress and/or needs oxygen. Children are more likely to develop a severe case of RSV if they are younger than 2 months old or have previous serious medical conditions such as premature birth, congenital heart conditions, asthma or other respiratory illnesses.

When Can My Child Return to School?

RSV typically lasts 14 days, with the worst symptoms on days 4 to 6. People who have had RSV should wait 5 to 10 days after the first symptoms before returning to school or work, or at least 24 hours after the fever, cough and/or congestion has subsided (whichever is longest).

Use our Inova physician search to find a doctor near you.

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