RSV is a common respiratory infection in children. Severe cases can pose risks for children with asthma and may be associated with an increased risk of asthma later in life.

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Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) causes infections of the respiratory tract, which means it can pose risks to people with asthma. A severe case of RSV in babies and young children may trigger asthma later in life.

Those most at risk of severe RSV include infants and older adults. But RSV is very common, and most children get it by age 2. Typically, RSV causes mild, cold-like symptoms that resolve on their own in a few days or weeks. But when RSV causes inflammation in the airways of vulnerable people, it can cause problems like wheezing and shortness of breath.

In this article, we talk about RSV in more detail and how it affects asthma. We also discuss treatment and self-care strategies to help manage your symptoms.

RSV is a respiratory virus that can affect your nose, throat, and lungs. It starts as an upper respiratory infection but can spread to the airways and lungs. Infants, who have tiny airways, are most at risk of developing a serious RSV infection.

You can get RSV if someone with the virus coughs or sneezes and the droplets enter your mouth or nose. According to the Allergy & Asthma Network, people with RSV are typically contagious for 3–8 days.

RSV can also survive for hours on tables, crib rails, and other surfaces, which is another reason it’s so contagious. It spreads easily through daycares and preschools, where children are likely to touch contaminated surfaces, like markers or toys, and then put their hands in their mouths.

Symptoms of RSV can include:

  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • wheezing
  • reduced appetite
  • fever

According to the Allergy & Asthma Network, severe cases of RSV can increase your child’s risk of developing asthma later in life.

RSV has also been linked to an increased risk of allergies and greater sensitivity to allergens like pollen and dust. Children who had a severe RSV infection in infancy are also at risk of recurrent wheezing and airway constriction.

Fast facts:

Children who have a severe RSV infection before age 3 are twice as likely as other children to develop asthma later in life.

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As noted by the Allergy & Asthma Network, researchers aren’t entirely sure why this happens to some children and not others. One theory is that a serious RSV infection in infancy or early childhood could damage lung tissue, leading to asthma.

But it’s also possible that serious RSV infections don’t lead to asthma, and that children at risk of asthma are also at risk of serious RSV infections.

The American Lung Association states that you may have an increased chance of developing severe RSV if you:

  • have a chronic lung condition
  • have heart problems
  • are 65 years old or older

The respiratory virus can cause worsening symptoms of asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Sometimes, it can also trigger an asthma attack.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, symptoms of an asthma attack include:

  • cough
  • chest tightness
  • wheezing
  • lightheadedness

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, other respiratory infections that can cause an asthma episode or attack include:

There’s no specific treatment for RSV. Most of the time, the infection goes away on its own within 2 weeks. A doctor may recommend resting and staying hydrated if you or your child has RSV.

It’s important to keep a close eye on your asthma symptoms whenever you’re sick. Call a doctor or emergency services if you have breathing difficulties or your symptoms worsen.

It’s a good idea to have an asthma action plan prepared ahead of time. You can work with a doctor to create this action plan, so you know what to do when your or your child’s asthma symptoms flare up.

An asthma action plan typically includes the following:

  • a list of signs and symptoms that indicate how severe the episode is
  • directions on which medications to take and when
  • indications of when to call a doctor or call 911
  • emergency contact numbers

There are no specific treatment options for RSV. The goal is generally to provide supportive care to help keep you or your child safe and comfortable. This may include:

If you have an asthma diagnosis, you should use your medications as directed to help with any shortness of breath. This may include a rescue inhaler or preventive treatments.

In severe cases requiring hospitalization, doctors can provide additional therapies like intravenous (IV) fluids, supplemental oxygen, and, if necessary, intubation.

To care for yourself or your child at home you may use strategies such as the following:

  • placing a cold washcloth on the forehead for fever and headache
  • running a humidifier to prevent dry air from irritating the throat
  • using calming essential oils like eucalyptus
  • using a neti pot to clear the nasal passageways, being mindful of safety guidelines
  • getting plenty of rest
  • drinking lots of fluids like water, herbal tea, or Pedialyte

RSV is a very contagious infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides some tips that may help limit RSV spread and reduce your chance of contracting the virus, including:

  • washing your hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • avoiding sharing utensils or kissing people who don’t feel well
  • covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing
  • disinfecting surfaces or toys

You may also talk with a doctor if your child may have an increased chance of developing serious RSV symptoms. A medication called palivizumab is sometimes given to premature infants and babies with congenital heart disease or chronic lung problems. This is a monthly injection that your child would get throughout the peak RSV season.

  • RSV is a respiratory virus that causes cold-like symptoms, such as coughing, stuffy nose, and wheezing.
  • RSV can trigger asthma attacks, and severe infections can be associated with asthma later in life.
  • RSV is very contagious; disinfecting objects limits RSV spread.