Q: My granddaughter was diagnosed with something called RSV. She had to be hospitalized and is now using a nebulizer machine at home. I have never heard of RSV. What is it? Are her lungs permanently damaged?
Many people have never heard of the term "RSV." RSV, which stands for Respiratory Syncytial Virus, is the most common germ that causes lung and airway infections in infants and young children.
Children between the ages of 2 months and 12 months are the most likely to be affected. RSV cases peak during the winter months.
RSV spreads by person-to-person contact. The illness starts with nasal congestion. In older children and adults, the symptoms are indistinguishable from the common cold. But infants and young children will often develop worse symptoms, including fever, wheezing and difficulty breathing because of increased mucous production and swelling in the airway.
Risk factors for developing RSV include daycare attendance, exposure to tobacco smoke, crowded living and having school-aged children in the home.
RSV is a viral illness, so antibiotics do not help. There is no cure for RSV; therefore, the treatment is based on treating symptoms until the illness resolves. In milder cases, the best treatments include nasal saline drops, bulb nasal suction, cool-mist humidifier and fever reducers such as Tylenol, as needed. In more severe cases, an infant may need to be hospitalized to receive oxygen, nasal suctioning and IV fluids.
Sometimes albuterol nebulizer treatments ("breathing treatment") may be effective, but this is not always the case. Most important to note: Over-the-counter decongestants or cough medicines should NOT be used.
Children with RSV symptoms - including nasal congestion with rapid breathing, labored breathing, or wheezing - should be seen by their health care provider for evaluation.
In your granddaughter's specific situation, she had a more severe case and is now in the recovering phases of this illness.
RSV causes airway inflammation that may take several weeks to resolve, meaning that the cough can last for three to four weeks. Although the recovery process is slow, there is no evidence to support that RSV causes any permanent lung damage.