What You Need To Know About Treating Your Child's Respiratory Infection At Home

With an unprecedented surge in the number of children being diagnosed with Respiratory Syncytial Virus, also known as RSV, many little ones are being admitted to hospitals for treatment — and medical professionals are having a hard time keeping up. In fact, Connecticut is considering sending the National Guard to Connecticut Children's Hospital to help care for young patients, per CNN. "I've been doing this a long time. I've been at Connecticut Children's for 25 years, and I've never seen this level of surge specifically for RSV coming into our hospital," the hospital's executive vice president and physician-in-chief, Dr. Juan Salazar, explained.

There are things that parents should look out for when it comes to RSV. The early symptoms mimic the common cold: runny nose, decrease in appetite, and a cough that can turn to wheezing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For young infants — those less than six months old — symptoms can also include irritability, decreased activity and appetite, and apnea (pauses while breathing). 

During this phase of the illness, there probably isn't a need to rush to the emergency room. "The vast majority of respiratory infections in children can be managed at home with fluids, fever-reducing medicines, and rest," Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician, told CNN. "What's causing the infection is generally not the key determining factor in whether a child needs hospital care — it's how the child is doing."

Parents should look out for these two major symptoms

If a child's RSV symptoms continue to mimic the common cold, parents should feel comfortable treating it at home. But emergency physician Dr. Leana Wen told CNN that two major symptoms that would indicate a more serious issue are difficulty breathing and dehydration. "Look for struggled and fast breathing," she explained. "For example, if your children are wheezing or grunting; if their nostrils are flaring; if they are belly breathing, meaning that the chest caves in during breathing and the belly goes out; or if their breathing rate is higher than normal." 

In addition, a stuffy nose can lead to difficulties breastfeeding and drinking from a bottle, which can cause quick dehydration for babies. "If your child looks sleepy and isn't drinking, or if your baby is having a decrease in the number of wet diapers, call your doctor sooner rather than later," said Dr. Wen.

While there are ways for parents to determine whether their child has RSV, the flu, or COVID-19, if they're not sure, it's best to bring them to the pediatrician — or the emergency room — where they will be tested for all three. And while the state of hospitals during this surge can lead to stress for parents, they should rest assured that medical professionals will work to provide the best care to their child, so don't hesitate to go to the ER if you deem it necessary.