How Serious Is a Rhinovirus Infection?

Medically Reviewed on 9/29/2021
While rhinovirus infections are highly contagious, they rarely lead to life-threatening complications. However, rhinoviruses are often fatal for high-risk cancer patients.

Rhinovirus infection, which is more common during spring and fall, is likely to cause only mild symptoms, with the virus being by far the predominant cause of the common cold, especially in children.

Human rhinoviruses are highly contagious. However, they rarely lead to serious complications. The most common complications include:

Rhinovirus is more likely to cause severe lung infections, such as pneumonia and bronchitis, only in babies and children who were born premature or have heart disease or asthma.

Rhinovirus infections are often life-threatening among high-risk people with cancer. In a study conducted on 22 blood and marrow transplant recipients with impaired immune systems and who were hospitalized with rhinovirus infections, 32 percent (or seven) of the patients developed deadly pneumonia. The remaining patients had infections that did not progress beyond the upper respiratory tract.

How does rhinovirus spread?

Rhinovirus is spread through the air in the form of droplets in the following ways:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Close personal contact
  • Touching contaminated surfaces and objects (fomites)

Rhinovirus can survive on surfaces for many hours, which increases its chances of spread.

What are the signs and symptoms of rhinovirus infection?

Rhinovirus infection typically lasts for 7 to 11 days but may persist for longer with these signs and symptoms:

How long does it take to recover from rhinovirus infection?

Adults usually recover within seven days of rhinovirus infection, whereas children take longer, typically 10 to 14 days. Occasionally, children may have a cough that lasts for two to three weeks.

What is the treatment of rhinovirus infection?

Rhinovirus infections are usually mild and go away on their own. Treatment aims to provide relief from symptoms while practicing good hygiene prevents spreading the infection. Therapy for infected adults may include:

  • Rest: Adequate rest and sleep give the body ample time to recover from rhinovirus infections.
  • Hydration: Regardless of age, when you have a cold and cough, it is important to stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. This helps clear excess mucus in the sinuses.
  • First-generation antihistamines
  • Nasal decongestants
    • Oxymetazoline
    • Phenylephrine
    • Pseudoephedrine

If your baby is suffering from a cold, here is what you should do (apart from rest and hydration):

  • Saline nasal spray:
    • Using nasal saline spray helps clear off the mucus from the nasal passages.
  • Increase humidity:
    • Using a cool-mist humidifier and keeping it near the baby’s bed will humidify the environment, which in turn will keep the baby’s nasal passages moist.
  • Use cotton swabs or tissue papers:
    • Always keep cotton swabs (especially wet) or tissue papers handy to wipe sticky mucus that blocks your baby’s nostrils.
  • Chicken soup:
    • Studies have reported that chicken soup contains ingredients that help thin the mucus and relieve congestion. Soups and broths not only keep your child hydrated but also replenish them with nutrients.
    • Additionally, the warmth of the soup can be soothing, especially for the flu, a cold, and a cough.
  • Sleeping in a comfortable position:
    • Nose congestion often aggravates at night, and sleeping in a lying position might worsen it. Grab a pillow and elevate your baby’s head a bit higher to allow the draining of the mucus from the nose into their throat.
  • Do not use cold medicines:
    • Although you may want to give your child over-the-counter cold medicines, there’s little or no evidence to support that they work. Moreover, they can cause irritability and irregular heartbeats, particularly in infants. Hence, pediatricians do not recommend them for kids younger than four years of age.
    • Apply petroleum jelly on the outer sides of the nose if your child’s nostrils become dry.

The aforementioned measures help relieve a congested nose for most babies. However, if you see that your child is not getting better and their breathing difficulty is worsening, seek urgent medical help.


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Medically Reviewed on 9/29/2021
Rhinovirus (RV) Infection (Common Cold).

Greenberg SB. Respiratory consequences of rhinovirus infection. Arch Intern Med. 2003 Feb 10;163(3):278-284.