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Ask the Expert: RSV

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Ask the Expert: RSV

December 07, 2022

Photo of Dr. Stacy Wagner

What is RSV?
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common respiratory illness, impacting the lungs and breathing airways. RSV can affect people of all ages, but typically has more severe impacts on younger children and elderly adults. The virus is seen more frequently in the winter months and has symptoms similar to the common cold or influenza, such as a cough, congestions and a fever, to name a few. 

Though the symptoms of RSV are similar to other viruses, it is not necessarily important to know exactly which virus is causing the symptoms. This is because the treatment will be the same, as viruses cannot be treated with antibiotics. 

How to treat RSV?
One of the most important things you can do for a young child with RSV is continue to clear the mucus out with a nasal saline and suction. This will help the child to eat and sleep better due to being able to breathe better. It is recommended to do this at every diaper change. Just as importantly, you will want to ensure the child is receiving plenty of fluids and rest. You can run a cool mist humidifier and give Tylenol or ibuprofen if they seem really uncomfortable. 

How do I know when to call the doctor?
The majority of the time, RSV can be fought off at home. You can call the pediatrician to have a doctor listen to the child’s lungs or use a medical-grade nasal suction. The doctor can also check oxygen levels to ensure the child is oxygenating enough on their own and does not need supplemental oxygen. 

For children especially, it is important to keep an eye on respiratory symptoms and hydration levels. If you notice any respiratory distress or dehydration or if symptoms are getting worse, it is time to seek medical help. Here’s what to look for:

Respiratory distress

  • Retractions or sucking in between the ribs when breathing
  • Nasal flaring
  • Grunting when breathing


  • Dry, sticky mouth
  • No tears when crying
  • No urinating at least every 8 hours

If you notice any of the symptoms listed above, seek immediate medical attention. At this point, the best thing to do is go to the emergency department. 

The best tips for preparing for winter illnesses and overcoming them more quickly are to wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and stay home if you are sick. If you would like to make an appointment with a member of the Waverly Health Center’s pediatrics team, call the Christophel Clinic at (319) 483-1390.

Dr. Stacy Wagner
Pediatrician, Christophel Clinic