What is RSV?

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a contagious virus that infects the respiratory tract and the lungs. The RSV virus is so common that by the age of two, most children have had the virus one or more times. While it is most common in children, adults can also contract the illness.

The symptoms of RSV are similar to those of a common cold. Self-care and over-the-counter treatments are usually sufficient to relieve discomfort. However, respiratory syncytial virus can sometimes cause severe infections, especially in certain individuals who are more at risk.

What are the symptoms of RSV?

Mild symptoms

Closely resembling the common cold, RSV symptoms are usually mild in adults and older children. Mild symptoms include:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Mild headache
  • Low-grade fever
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat

Severe symptoms

In severe cases of RSV, pneumonia or bronchiolitis can occur as a result of the virus entering the lower respiratory tract. Due to the inflammation of the small airway passages of the lungs, these conditions can cause more serious symptoms, such as:

  • Severe cough
  • Wheezing
  • Fever
  • Bluish color of the skin
  • Rapid breathing
  • Difficulty breathing

Symptoms of RSV in infants

The effects of RSV are usually most severe in infants, as it can make breathing difficult for them. Symptoms in infants include:

  • Short, shallow and rapid breathing
  • Skin and chest muscles pulling inward with each breath
  • Poor feeding
  • Coughing
  • Irritability
  • Unusual tiredness (lethargy)

If you, your child, or someone you know is having difficulty breathing, runs a high fever, or has blue-tinged skin (especially on the lips and nail beds), get immediate medical attention.

Who is most at risk?

While RSV is mild in most people, it can cause serious infections. People most at risk of developing severe symptoms are premature babies, infants in overcrowded childcare settings, people who have heart or lung problems, adults over the age of 65, and those with compromised immune systems.

How is RSV diagnosed?

At Physicians Immediate Care, the diagnosis begins with a physical exam and consideration of the person’s medical history. A highly accurate, in-office, molecular RSV test is available at all of our Illinois clinics.

If symptoms are severe, chest X-rays may be taken to check for signs of pneumonia. Blood or urine tests may also be recommended to check for bacterial infections and dehydration. In addition, a swab may be taken from the nose or mouth to test for RSV.

How is RSV treated?

RSV usually gets better on its own in about one to two weeks. For most people, RSV treatment can be done at home with self-care and over-the-counter medications. You can relieve your fever with painkillers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Do not give aspirin to children.

If your child is sick with RSV, keep her head propped up at night so she can breathe and sleep more easily. If your infant is having difficulty breathing, you can suction his nose using an over-the-counter product made for infants.

If symptoms become severe, or the child/infant has difficulty breathing, hospitalization may be necessary. Talk to your doctor if RSV symptoms are severe or get worse over time – especially in those at a higher risk of serious infection.

Where can I get treatment for RSV?

If you or your child are experiencing mild symptoms of RSV, self-care at home may be all that is needed to provide relief. If your symptoms are severe or get worse, or if you are at a high risk for developing a serious infection, you should visit a medical provider for an examination.

Physicians Immediate Care is a convenient option for your medical needs, including testing and treatment for RSV and similar conditions. With more than 40 clinics open extended hours, reserve a time or walk into a clinic near you to get efficient, quality care. Our friendly staff and dependable medical providers will be happy to help you get the treatment and advice you need to start feeling better.