Warning Signs Of Respiratory Syncytial Virus

April 25, 2023

Respiratory syncytial virus is a contagious disease that spreads through the air and through direct contact with affected individuals. For example, patients may become infected if they inhale infected droplets released by someone who has coughed or sneezed near them, and they could also become infected if they shake hands with an individual who has the illness. Typically, the virus enters the body through the eyes, nose, or mouth. While this condition can affect individuals of any age, it most commonly affects babies and young children. Premature babies, infants with congenital heart problems, the elderly, and individuals who have asthma or other underlying health conditions have an increased risk of complications and more severe symptoms if they get respiratory syncytial virus. To diagnose this condition, mouth swabs, chest x-rays, and blood tests may be needed. For patients with mild symptoms, rest, over-the-counter pain relievers, and proper hydration can help to manage this virus. Patients who have more severe symptoms may need treatment at the hospital, including intravenous fluids, ventilation, and humidified oxygen. Ribavirin, an antiviral drug, may be recommended for patients who have weakened immune systems, and palivizumab is often used as a preventative treatment for some infants and children.

Dry And Severe Cough

Coughing is one of the main symptoms for all cases of this condition, and the type and severity of a patient's cough can provide clues to the severity of the virus. A dry and severe cough typically develops in older children and adults with a severe form of this ailment, and patients with a mild form may also have a dry cough. The cough is often accompanied by wheezing, rapid breathing, and a fever. If left untreated, respiratory syncytial virus may lead to pneumonia, and it can increase an individual's risk of developing asthma. To manage a cough, doctors recommend patients use a humidifier at home, and they should avoid smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke.

Presence Of A Fever

Patients with respiratory syncytial virus often deal with a high fever. For mild cases of this virus typically experienced by older children and adults, the fever is normally low-grade (below 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit). Fever the occurs with more severe cases of respiratory syncytial virus may be higher. Patients who have a fever should monitor their temperature several times a day, and they may wish to take over-the-counter fever reducers such as acetaminophen. Patients who have a fever of more than 103 degrees Fahrenheit should seek urgent medical care, and individuals who have had any fever for three days or more should also seek prompt medical care. In particular, a fever accompanied by vomiting, severe headaches, confusion, a skin rash, or throat swelling requires emergency treatment.

Runny Or Congested Nose

A runny or congested nose normally occurs in mild cases of this virus, and it generally resolves within two weeks. Patients with a runny nose may find saline nasal drops help reduce congestion and discomfort. These are available without a prescription and are safe for all patients, including young children. To administer the drops, place several into one nostril, and use a bulb syringe to suction that nostril immediately. Then, repeat both steps for the other nostril. Over time, using saline nasal drops will loosen hard or thick mucus, and doctors recommend parents administer these to their children prior to feedings and before bedtime. Since respiratory syncytial virus can spread through infected secretions, any used tissues should be placed in the trash immediately. To prevent soreness that may result from repeated use of tissues, patients may need to apply petroleum jelly or moisturizer to the skin around the nostrils. For older children and adults who have a runny nose, sleeping on the side or stomach may help reduce nasal stuffiness in the morning, and elevating the pillows can be beneficial as well.


Wheezing is a high-pitched noise that may occur when a patient exhales. In individuals with respiratory syncytial virus, wheezing typically happens in severe cases. Parents may be able to identify the wheezing themselves. To properly evaluate wheezing, doctors will use a stethoscope to listen to the patient's lungs. The patient will be asked to breathe in and out while the stethoscope is placed on several areas of their chest. If the clinician hears wheezing or other abnormal sounds, further tests could be performed to identify the cause. This symptom may be accompanied by breathing difficulties, rapid breathing, or shortness of breath. Since respiratory syncytial virus can cause serious complications such as pneumonia, doctors will monitor the patient's breathing closely, and their oxygen saturation will also be checked frequently. Severe wheezing may require specialized breathing treatments in the hospital.

Issues With Breathing

As a respiratory virus, this condition causes a number of issues with breathing. For some patients, breathing issues may be as mild as a slight cough or congestion. Other patients may have more severe symptoms, including wheezing and shortness of breath, and they may breathe too quickly. In addition to these issues, infants may also develop bronchiolitis, an inflammation in the airways of the lungs. Older children and adults are more likely to develop pneumonia, an inflammation of the lungs themselves. Issues with breathing can lead to fatigue and reduced oxygen saturation. This can cause the skin to have a bluish tinge, which may be especially noticeable around the lips and underneath the fingernails. This blue color is a sign of insufficient oxygen, and it can be quite frightening for patients and their families. To reduce the risk of complications, patients experiencing issues with breathing should contact their healthcare provider or go to an urgent care facility for a prompt diagnosis. Depending on the exact type of breathing problem a patient is experiencing, breathing treatments, supplemental oxygen therapy, and ventilation may be offered.

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