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RSV vs. Croup: How Are They Different?

If you have kids or are around children, you are very well aware of a single truth: at any moment, an illness can strike. Children are very susceptible to illnesses, especially at young ages, as their immune systems are not mature yet. Even though some of these illnesses can be prevented with vaccines or other health measures, they still are a problem for children. As an example, recent outbreaks of pertussis, or whopping cough, have resurfaced, making it even more important for parents to keep their children healthy. Knowing the symptoms of illnesses, as well as treatments and prevention, is the key in keeping your children healthy.

Croup and RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) are common childhood viral illnesses that predominate during late fall, winter, and early spring. Croup, by definition, is an upper respiratory tract infection that results in inflammation and increased mucus production in the larynx, trachea, and bronchial tubes. It is this swelling around the vocal cords that provides the characteristic “barking cough” of croup.

RSV is another virus that causes infections of the lungs and respiratory tract. RSV is so common that most children have been infected by the age of two. For the majority of those affected, RSV causes only mild cold-like symptoms but it is also the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia among infants and children under the age of one.

RSV in Babies and Children


RSV is an infection of the lungs. It is very common in children ages 0-2, but can affect older children as well. This illness begins like the common cold, with a runny nose, and a mild fever. For infants with underdeveloped lungs or young children who don’t fight off infections well, these cold symptoms turn to rapid breathing, bouts of coughing, irritability that is more than a cranky episode, and a possible wheezing when coughing or trying to breathe.


Just like with a normal cold, it is recommended that you use a cool mist humidifier, provide lots of fluids to the sick child, keep the child as comfortable as possible, and give medication as directed. If your child experiences a sore throat, you can simply offer him/her honey, as long as he/she is older than one year old. Honey is not recommended for children younger than one as they may have a reaction to the spores that occur naturally in honey.

Croup in Kids


Croup is a scary illness for a parent to witness. It most often occurs in both the springtime and fall as it can be triggered by allergies. It can be caused by a virus or bacterial infection of the respiratory tract, meaning it could be caused by an illness like RSV or other illnesses. As a viral infection, it causes inflammation of vocal chords and surrounding tissue. There may or may not be a fever, depending on what illness has brought on the croup. Sudden attacks most likely happen in the middle of the night, giving your child a barking cough, a hard time breathing, and a very hoarse voice, which are scary things to deal.


Just like for RSV, it is recommended to use a cool-mist humidifier, but it is also helpful to run a hot shower and let your child breathe in the steam. Try to keep your child comfortable, which may include giving acetaminophen as directed for pain from coughing. Fluids should be encouraged to keep the throat moist.

For the majority of croup infections, and mild RSV infections, treatment for these illnesses is self-care at home. Children with croup may benefit from breathing humidified air which is thought to help with the coughing and stridor. Taking the child outside while dressed warmly on a cold day for a few minutes may help as well. If your child has any of the above mentioned symptoms, or if you are concerned about a potential infection, don’t hesitate to visit your local medical clinic for further evaluation and treatment.