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Making the Rounds: RSV

Last Modified: January 12, 2018

Diseases & Disorders, Family Medicine

Making the Rounds: RSV

As any parent who has been through it with their child can tell you, bronchiolitis caused by RSV is an unsettling diagnosis. Tony GiaQuinta, PPG – Pediatrics, President of the Indiana American Academy of Pediatrics, explains what causes the condition and how parents can help their children cope. 

What is it?

Bronchiolitis is a viral infection, usually caused by a Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), though there are many viruses that can trigger it. It causes the lungs to inflame and develop a lot of mucus production, which traps air and makes it harder to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. This also limits oxygen to the heart and brain.

What are the symptoms?

The child will have a terrible cough and will be working harder and using extra muscles to breath, trying to get as much oxygen into the lungs as possible. Despite all that, sometimes it will still be difficult for them to breath. This is one of the most common reason these patients get admitted to the hospital.

How is it treated?

We haven’t found that any medications are particularly effective in treating bronchiolitis. We’ve tried steroids and antibiotics and they almost never prove very effective. But we know parents want to know what to do to help. The most important thing to remember is that your child will do fine with a little bit of time and supportive care. Suction out their nose, promote hydration and make sure the child isn’t showing signs of severe respiratory distress. If you notice less wet diapers, bring them into your pediatrician. Your doctor can also make sure they are exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide appropriately.

When is it an emergency?

Go to the hospital if 1) the child is working too hard to breath, 2) if they are dehydrated, or 3) if they need oxygen. Bronchiolitis hits its peak at three days and then gets better, but that doesn’t mean the child will be entirely stable. They can get better, then worse. It’s tough to predict. We want to start them in hospital and possibly send them home with a little bit of oxygen therapy.

The most important thing to know is that, with a little bit of time and TLC, your child will fight off this infection.

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