Self-management

Lifestyle and home remedies

You may not be able to shorten the length of a respiratory syncytial virus infection, but you can try to relieve some signs and symptoms.

If your child has RSV, do your best to comfort or distract him or her — cuddle, read a book or play a quiet game. Other tips for relieving symptoms are:

  • Create moist air to breathe. Keep the room warm but not overheated. If the air is dry, a cool-mist humidifier or vaporizer can moisten the air and help ease congestion and coughing. Be sure to keep the humidifier clean to prevent the growth of bacteria and molds. An ideal indoor humidity is around 50 percent.
  • Drink fluids. Keep a steady supply of cool water at the bedside. Offer warm fluids, such as soup, which may help loosen thickened secretions. Ice pops may be soothing as well. Continue breast-feeding or bottle-feeding your infant as you would normally.
  • Try saline nasal drops. Over-the-counter (OTC) drops are a safe, effective way to ease congestion, even for young children. Drip several drops into one nostril to loosen hardened or thick mucus, then immediately suction that nostril, using a bulb syringe. Repeat the process in the other nostril. Do this before feedings and before putting your baby to sleep.
  • Use over-the-counter pain relievers. OTC pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) may help reduce fever and relieve a sore throat. Ask a doctor for the correct dose for your child's age.
  • Stay away from cigarette smoke. Secondhand smoke can aggravate symptoms.

Prevention

No vaccine exists for respiratory syncytial virus. But common-sense precautions can help prevent the spread of this infection:

  • Wash your hands frequently. Teach your children the importance of hand-washing.
  • Avoid exposure. Limit your infant's contact with people who have fevers or colds. This is especially important if your baby is premature and during any baby's first two months of life.
  • Keep things clean. Make sure kitchen and bathroom countertops are clean. Discard used tissues right away.
  • Don't share drinking glasses with others. Use your own glass or disposable cups when you or someone else is sick. Label each person's cup.
  • Don't smoke. Infants who are exposed to tobacco smoke have a higher risk of getting RSV and potentially more-severe symptoms. If you do smoke, never do so inside the house or car.
  • Wash toys regularly. Do this especially when your child or a playmate is sick.

Protective medication

The medication palivizumab (Synagis) can help protect certain children who are at high risk of serious complications of RSV. The medication is recommended for infants under age 1 who were born prematurely (before 29 weeks gestation). It's not recommended for healthy preemies born after 29 weeks.

The medication is also recommended for the following children:

  • Premature infants with chronic lung disease
  • Certain infants younger than 12 months old with congenital heart disease
  • Babies and toddlers under age 2 who needed at least a month of supplemental oxygen at birth and continue to require lung-related treatments
  • Children age 2 and younger who may be immunocompromised during RSV season

The medication is given monthly for five months during peak RSV season. It only helps prevent RSV infection. It doesn't help treat it once symptoms develop.

Scientists are working to find a nasal-spray vaccine to protect against the respiratory syncytial virus.