A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Caring for RSV at home: What parents need to know

Caring for RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, at home can be nerve-wracking. As a common respiratory infection, RSV symptoms may include runny nose, decreased appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever and wheezing. While symptoms typically only last a couple of weeks and resolve with rest and fluids, RSV can be dangerous, especially in infants.

RSV can cause dehydration, trouble breathing and additional serious illnesses, such as bronchiolitis or pneumonia.

Tips for caring for RSV at home

“In many cases, RSV will go away on its own. As a parent, you can help treat your child’s symptoms at home as they occur, similar to what you’d do for a bad cold,” said Dr. Thomas Boyce, pediatric infectious disease provider with Marshfield Children’s.

Tips for caring for RSV at home include clearing out mucus and improving breathing. You can help do this through nasal saline rinses to flush out excess mucus, using a bulb syringe to suction mucus from your child’s nose and using a cool-mist humidifier to help thin mucus to allow it to drain more easily.

Parent holding child who is sick with RSV

While symptoms typically only last a couple of weeks and resolve with rest and fluids, RSV can be dangerous, especially in infants.

Let your child rest and keep them comfortable. Prioritizing sleep helps with a quicker recovery and allows their immune systems to work to fight off the virus.

If your child has a fever, consider giving them a fever-reducing medicine. Acetaminophen can be given at any age; ibuprofen can be given to children six months and older.

Talk to your child’s health care provider about proper medication dosage and if your child has any medication restrictions.

Keeping your child hydrated is important

When your child is sick, they likely aren’t eating and drinking as much as normal. This can increase their risk of dehydration.

Children are more vulnerable to dehydration than adults. Their smaller body size means it doesn’t take as much fluid loss to cause dehydration.

To help reduce the risk of dehydration:

  • Try feeding your child more frequently if they aren’t eating as much.
  • Using the bulb syringe before feeding may improve food intake.
  • For breastfeeding children, it may help to pump and then feed from a bottle.
  • In older children, popsicles, ice chips, soups or Pedialyte may help improve hydration.

Monitor how much your child is drinking.

“If your child is drinking less than normal and if they have fewer than five to six wet diapers daily for infants or no wet diapers or urination for eight hours in toddlers, talk to your child’s provider,” Dr. Boyce said.

Monitor for additional signs of dehydration including sunken eyes, irritability, unusual fatigue, crying with no tears and a dry mouth or tongue.

Know when to see a health care provider for RSV

“If your child is breathing too hard or too fast to feed effectively, they should be brought to the emergency department,” Dr. Boyce said.

Talk with your child’s health care provider if they show other signs of worsening illness including wheezing, persistent irritability and if they are showing signs of dehydration.

If your child has a fever, seek medical care for:

  • Children under two months with a temperature greater than 100.4◦F
  • Children two months to one year with a temperature greater than 101◦F
  • Children older than one year with lethargy with or without a fever

Learn more about RSV and how to protect your child.

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