RSV Symptoms

RSV Basics

A chest x-ray is typically not needed when children have RSV.
A chest x-ray is typically not needed when children have RSV. Photo © istockphoto

While RSV, or the respiratory syncytial virus, may just cause a cold in older children, it can cause a serious and life-threatening infection in younger, high-risk children. These children, including children. These children, including premature babies, can develop bronchiolitis, which is associated with inflammation in the lungs, wheezing and difficulty breathing.

RSV can also cause croup, ear infections, and pneumonia.

RSV Symptoms

Many children with RSV often just get simple cold symptoms, like a runny nose, cough, and fever.

In younger children, especially infants and toddlers, RSV can affect their lungs, causing bronchiolitis or viral pneumonia. These children can develop more severe symptoms after about 2 to 4 days of having regular cold symptoms and after their fever may have gone away, including:

  • irritability and poor feeding
  • lethargy
  • worsening cough
  • difficulty breathing, with retractions and nasal flaring
  • fast breathing
  • wheezing
  • hypoxemia (low oxygen levels), although cyanosis, is not common
  • apnea, although this is most common in infants under 6 weeks of age

Be sure to call your pediatrician or seek other medical attention if your child's cold seems to be worsening and you think he is developing more severe RSV symptoms.

What To Know About RSV Symptoms

Other things to know about RSV symptoms include that:

  • Other viral infections can cause bronchiolitis and symptoms similar to RSV. That's one of the reasons that testing for RSV isn't that important.
  • There is no cure for RSV.
  • RSV season most commonly occurs between December and March.
  • Synagis is a monthly shot that can help prevent RSV infections and can be given to high-risk infants and children, especially premature babies during RSV season.

And unfortunately, it is possible to get RSV more than once.


Ralston SL, Lieberthal AS, Meissner HC, et al. Clinical Practice Guideline: The Diagnosis, Management, and Prevention of Bronchiolitis. Pediatrics. 2014;134(5):e1474–e1502 - October 01, 2015

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