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I’ve got to admit; during the first year of his life, I was constantly worried about my son Oliver coming down with RSV, croup, and other respiratory or immune challenges as an infant. Out of all those, however, Respiratory Syncytial Virus and the complications that come with it kept me up at night the most. And I’m not at all the worrying or fearful type.
I suppose I had good reason to worry; however, since Oliver was born 5 weeks early, had PPHN (Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn), and spent 6 weeks in the NICU battling respiratory and neurological challenges. We were told he’d be “sick all the time” and had a “99% chance” of having lifelong immune and neurological challenges since his start to life was so bad.
So please, parents, trust me when I say that I truly do feel for you when your little one comes down with a cold or ear infection and you start to get concerned that it could soon become something worse like RSV.
Not only was every medical doctor we spoke to full of nothing but fear and worst-case scenarios, but turning on the news or paying attention to the media will absolutely make things even worse. I’m so glad those were not, and still certainly are not today, our main resources for health + wellness advice for our family.
I will forever be thankful that as a trained Pediatric + Family Chiropractor, I already had the knowledge and information we’ll share in this article. Therefore we were able to use that information to face the fear and concern head-on with real, helpful action steps that built up Oliver’s strength and resilience instead of succumbing to it all and just letting him become chronically sick all the time.
Don’t get me wrong, Oliver certainly battled (and overcame) croup, colds, and a chronic cough quite a bit that first year of life… but he never did get an RSV infection or diagnosis! And today, he’s got such a rockstar immune and respiratory system that he won multiple cross-country running races this past season!
Yep, from a child who was told by multiple doctors, he’d be sick, struggling, and on drugs his whole life to one who’s not had a drug since he left the hospital and now is absolutely thriving!
Let’s dig in and help you do all you can to help your child prevent and overcome RSV and other respiratory + immune challenges!
What is RSV?
Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common respiratory virus that causes infections of the lung and respiratory tract. RSV usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms.
Most patients recover in a week or two, but RSV can be serious, especially for infants and immunocompromised adults. RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia (infection of the lungs) in children younger than 1 year of age in the United States.
RSV is one of many viruses that can cause respiratory illnesses, which are illnesses of nose, throat, and lung infection. Typically it’s most common from late fall to early spring, when stress levels are up, families are inside more (less Vitamin D, movement, etc.), and immune systems are less resilient and responsive.
That is why it’s likely we see such an increase in the cases of RSV here recently, as the past 2-3 years saw a lot more staying inside, high stress, and avoiding other germs and pathogens that would actually serve to help strengthen and build resilience in a child’s immune system.
Almost all children will get RSV at least once before age 2, but very few end up with an illness bad enough to become hospitalized and get the official diagnosis.
What are the Symptoms of RSV?
It’s well known that for many cases, the symptoms may take 2-6 days to appear after getting exposed and infected. RSV spreads similarly to a common cold and shares many of the same symptoms. Common symptoms include:
- Congested or Runny nose
- Decrease in appetite
- Sore throat
- Poor feeding
However, in severe cases, RSV can spread to the lower respiratory tract and cause other conditions such as bronchitis, bronchiolitis, and even pneumonia. The list of symptoms to watch for here may include:
- Short, fast, shallow breathing
- Belly breathing or even retractions (when a baby must use muscles in the neck or between the ribs to breathe)
- Flaring of the nostrils or rhythmic grunting while breathing
- Major fatigue, exhaustion, and lethargy (not very responsive at all)
How is RSV Diagnosed?
While there is a nasal swab and laboratory test to confirm an RSV diagnosis, like most pediatric conditions, doctors just diagnose by asking about symptoms and doing a simple physical exam to check for the abovementioned things. The doctor may also order a chest x-ray and oxygen saturation test to look for further signs of congestion, inflammation, and infection.
What Causes RSV?
While most doctors, articles, and information will only discuss how cold and RSV viruses are spread (transmission) from one person to another, the truth is that is quite simple knowledge and information we all already know… and it doesn’t dive deep into what we need to know to determine if our child is at risk or not.
Like all viruses and pathogens, RSV can enter your child’s body through someone sneezing or coughing, physical touch from dirty hands or surfaces, and so forth. But what happens next when that virus gets into the body? Is your child’s respiratory and immune system prepared enough to fight it off and get rid of it, or is it sure to cause an infection every time?
Why is it that some kids can be exposed to viruses and germs all the time in the home, daycare, or school and not ever get sick… and some kids get sick at the mere mention of a virus? Is it truly just good luck or bad luck based on genetics? No, there is so much more to this story, parents, and you deserve to know it all.
Seed or Soil? Which Matters Most?
While still today, most parents are led to believe that germs, viruses, and bacteria alone are what cause illness (the “seed”), there is so much more to it.
While yes, it’s true that, especially for infants and young children, their immune, digestive, and nervous systems are still developing and maturing… it’s not as if they have no defense at all. God’s design for our children is far more advanced than that, and they are made in a way that certainly takes into account the presence of viruses and bacteria throughout an infant’s world.
In the metaphorical question posed above, the soil is the child’s internal defense system – which is made up primarily of four (4) major individual systems that all work together to keep us healthy. Those key systems are:
- The Nervous System
- The Respiratory System
- The Immune System
- The Digestive System (Gut)
We list the nervous system first there very intentionally, as what we know today is that it’s the nervous system’s job to control, regulate, and modulate all of those other systems (and many others as well). Therefore if a child’s nervous system is stressed and not functioning properly, a condition known as dysautonomia, then the other three (3) key systems are compromised and can start to experience dysfunction in the following ways:
- Decreased respiratory motility or movement – not being able to keep viruses like RSV from moving through and getting cleared out of the nose, throat, airway, or lungs
- Decreased immune responsiveness and increased or excessive mucus production, inflammatory response, and more
- Decreased digestive motility or movement – working just like the respiratory system, where not viruses and germs can’t be eliminated and removed from the body efficiently
When you’re looking to keep your child healthy or restore their health when sick, always be sure to look at the nervous system first. If it’s overly stressed and out of balance or subluxated, it’s likely those other key systems will struggle as well.
Who is at High Risk for RSV?
As mentioned before, our son Oliver checked off nearly every single one of the high-risk boxes listed here:
- Premature infants
- Children who experienced birth intervention and trauma (forceps, vacuum, induction, c-section, etc.)
- Very young infants (6 months and younger)
- Children younger than 2 years old with chronic lung disease or congenital (present from birth) heart disease
- Children with weakened immune systems
- Children who have neurological or neuromuscular disorders, including those with difficulty swallowing or clearing mucus secretions
While premature birth and higher risk to younger children have long been known, the connection and correlation to birth trauma and the overuse of antibiotics are what we see again and again in our clinics over the last 15 years, and more and more research is coming out each year taking a look at those connections.
How to Care for RSV?
There is no specific medical treatment for RSV; commonly used drugs like steroids and antibiotics do not help with an RSV infection.
What you can do, however, is help your child be as comfortable as possible and then look to strengthen the function of their neuro-immune system, improve drainage and movement of mucus and congestion out of the body, and encourage rest as much as possible. Doing so could look the following things:
- Using a nasal saline or gentle suctioning
- Using a cool-mist humidifier
- Encouraging additional rest and sleep
- Encouraging frequent feedings and fluids (staying hydrated is absolutely key)
- Adding in healthy foods and adding in immune-boosting, pathogen-fighting vitamins, supplements, herbs, and essential oils (“Nature’s Medicine Cabinet”)
- Getting your child under chiropractic care or adding a “boost” adjustment if they already are
While that last bullet point is something as easily or commonly found on a shelf at your local pharmacy or health food store, it’s the one that was an absolute game-changer for our son Oliver and many millions more children who are under regular chiropractic care.
The adjustments can not only remove those stuck, trouble-causing subluxations in the short term, but they can also handle dysautonomia and more long-standing neurological challenges that may be underlying the frequent colds, congestion, and respiratory infections.
The most important thing to focus on with RSV is prevention. If your child is very young or has the added risk factors listed above, such as premature birth, extended NICU stay, birth trauma, or frequent use of antibiotics and steroids, then be sure to follow the proactive + resilience-building steps listed in the last section as best you can!
RSV – What’s the Next Step(s)?
For far too long, parents have been told the best prevention they have is to frequently wash their hands, kill every germ they can in the household (think Super Soaker full of Purel), and avoid family and friends each and every winter… that’s not the kind of life that will lead to any sort of true health and happiness for you or your child.
Instead, take this all head-on! In addition to having an incredible, integrative + holistic-minded pediatrician, ensure you’ve got a trained and experienced Pediatric Chiropractor on your family’s healthcare team.
Not only will they be able to make those incredible adjustments and provide neurologically-focused, drug-free care for your child and family, but they can help guide you into all the additional ways you can use natural, resilience-building health and wellness strategies in your day-to-day life!
Again and again, we find that when so many other kids get sick and stressed, our “chiro kids” like Oliver stay strong, stay healthy, and don’t miss a beat!
If you need to get your child back on track after a bout of RSV or other respiratory challenges, or you’re reading this article ahead of time and want to stay ahead of things and focus on prevention, go to our directory page right away and book a consultation with your local PX Doc!
Brind’Amour, K. Ph.D., MS. “Relieve Your Child’s Bronchiolitis Symptoms 7 Natural Ways” Dr. Axe. January 28, 2018