Search icon

Baby's health

26th Oct 2023

Symptoms of RSV in children parents should be aware of as we enter winter

Jody Coffey

RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) is a common virus that causes coughs and colds.

The virus is one of the main contributors of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in very young children, and is usually more widespread in winter and early spring, according to the HSE.

While RSV is not new and most children will have gotten it by the time they turn two, it can be more serious in babies under one year, children aged one to four, and anyone with an underlying lung or heart condition.

Symptoms of RSV are mostly mild and resemble a cold. These include a runny nose, coughing, and sneezing, and recovery time is usually between two and three weeks without treatment or needing to see your GP.

Other symptoms include difficulty feeding or decreased appetite, fever (temperature of 38 degrees celsius or higher), and a sore throat.

These symptoms usually will occur in stages and not all at once.

After four to five days, babies and young children may develop bronchiolitis, which may worsen their symptoms and often last three to four days before they feel better.

They may present as increased breathing (more breaths per minute), wheezing, difficulty feeding or decreased appetite, or less wet nappies.

It can last anywhere between 10 and 14 days before babies and young children recovered from an RSV infection, according to the HSE.

They also advise that many babies and children could have a cough that lasts for weeks after the infection begins, but it does not require antibiotics.

When to get medical help

The HSE states that the symptoms of RSV can usually be treated at home and without the need to see a GP.

However, there are a number of instances when you should call 999 or 112 or go to your nearest emergency department with your child:

  • if they are having visible difficulty breathing – their nostrils are getting wider as they breathe, or their ribs are sucking in
  • their lips or tongue have turned blue
  • they will not stay awake or wake up
  • they have long gaps in breathing (more than 10 seconds at a time or regular short gaps in breathing of 5 to 10 seconds).
  • their breathing a lot faster than usual (more than 60 breaths per minute)
  • they are pale and sweaty
  • they have had a dry nappy for 12 hours or more

If you see symptoms of RSV in a premature baby (born before 37 weeks), a baby younger than two months old, have heart or lung disease, or an immune deficiency, it is advised that you attend a GP or emergency department immediately.