RSV causes a mild infection similar to the common cold. But, RSV is more likely to cause fever, wheezing, and difficulty eating. Both may be treated at home without medical intervention within around 2 weeks.

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Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a virus that leads to a mild infection. It causes symptoms that are very similar to the common cold.

RSV lasts about as long as the common cold, and you can typically treat it at home with rest, just like a cold.

However, there are some differences. Several viruses can cause a cold, not only RSV. And not all symptoms of RSV and colds are the same.

RSV is a common virus that causes infections in humans. Most RSV infections are mild and cause symptoms similar to the common cold, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

However, certain populations have a higher risk of developing a severe RSV infection, including:

  • infants
  • older adults over 60 years old
  • people who are pregnant

Symptoms usually appear 4–6 days after contracting the virus and go away within 1–2 weeks without medical treatment.

A cold is a very common, mild infection that affects the upper respiratory tract.

Over 200 viruses may cause the common cold, but rhinovirus is the most common cause, according to the CDC.

Adults have about two to three colds each year, while children typically have colds more often.

Like RSV, cold symptoms may last up to 2 weeks. However, rest and over-the-counter (OTC) medications may help you recover more quickly.

RSV infections and colds are both caused by the transmission of a viral infection.

For example, if someone with a virus near you coughs or sneezes, their infected water droplets may enter your mouth, eyes, or nose, transmitting the virus to you.


RSV and colds share common symptoms in adults, such as:

They also share common symptoms in infants, such as:

According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, RSV infections are much more likely to cause fever and wheezing than the common cold.

On the other hand, the common cold is more likely to cause a sore throat.

The following severe symptoms in infants are also more characteristic of RSV:

If your child experiences any of these symptoms, get immediate medical attention.

In most cases, at-home remedies are enough to help you recover from RSV or a cold. These may include:

It’s important to speak with a healthcare professional before using any OTC medications, especially for infants and young children. They may recommend alternatives, such as using a cool-mist humidifier.

Adults and children can get RSV or a cold at any time.

However, the following risk factors may increase your risk of contracting RSV or developing the cold:

  • the fall and winter seasons (September–March)
  • being an infant or very young child
  • being age 60 years and older
  • having a weakened immune system
  • having an underlying health condition
  • frequently being in a shared space, such as living in a dorm, group home, or assisted living facility

Most infants contract RSV for the first time before their second birthday, according to the CDC.

RSV and cold infections are typically mild. Most people recover completely in under 2 weeks.

However, it’s possible for a cold and an RSV infection to progress and become a serious illness, such as pneumonia or bronchiolitis.

For infections caused by RSV, serious illness is more of a risk for:

For infections caused by colds, serious infections are more of a risk for people with:

What does RSV cough sound like?

An RSV cough may sound wet because of mucus buildup. However, get medical attention if you’re wheezing, your cough sounds like a bark, or you’re experiencing difficulty breathing. These may be signs of a complication.

How do you know if it’s RSV or a cold?

RSV and cold share similar symptoms, such as runny nose, congestion, and headache. However, RSV is more likely to cause wheezing and fever, while cold is more likely to cause sore throat.

What is the fastest way to get rid of RSV?

In most cases, RSV will clear up on its own within 1–2 weeks. However, some at-home remedies like staying hydrated and resting, as well as taking OTC pain relievers may help you recover more quickly.

Does RSV start with a sore throat?

Sore throat is more likely to be caused by the common cold, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. However, the American Lung Association notes that sore throat may be an early symptom of RSV, too.

Can I take antibiotics for RSV or a cold?

No. RSV is a virus and colds are caused by viruses. Antibiotics do not treat viruses, they treat bacteria.

RSV infection and the common cold are both caused by contracting a virus.

Although they both cause mild symptoms like coughing, sneezing, and congestion, there are slight differences between the two conditions.

Both conditions usually clear up on their own without treatment. However, sometimes infections may be severe and require medical treatment.

If your symptoms don’t clear up after 10 days, worsen, or cause difficulty breathing, speak with a healthcare professional. They could provide a proper diagnosis and treatment plan for you.