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What Is Parainfluenza?


Updated June 10, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: What Is Parainfluenza?
Have you or your child been diagnosed with parainfluenza? Find out more about parainfluenza including what it means for you, symptoms and treatment options.

Parainfluenza is a very common virus that can cause both upper and lower respiratory infections including colds, bronchiolitis, bronchitis, croup and pneumonia. Despite the name, it's not linked to the "flu."

Symptoms vary depending on the individual. It is typically most severe in young infants, people with weak immune systems and older adults.

Common parainfluenza symptoms include:

  • Cold symptoms such as runny nose and cough
  • Chest pains
  • Croup (a "barky cough" that sounds like a seal barking)
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion (stuffy nose)
  • Wheezing

Treatment Options:

Treatment for parainfluenza depends on the illness that it causes. For most adults and older children, symptoms are typically similar to those of a cold and it requires no treatment. Parainfluenza is a virus that will go away on it's own just like the common cold.

However, it can cause more serious problems in young children. If a child (or even adult) has signs of wheezing, they could be prescribed an inhaler or nebulizer to help make breathing easier. If they have signs of croup, oral steroids may be prescribed. If the illness leads to a secondary infection of pneumonia, antibiotics may be needed. Your health care provider will determine what treatment is needed based on your symptoms and health history.

When to See the Doctor:

Most people with parainfluenza infections will not need to see a doctor. However, if you or a loved one develops signs of difficulty breathing, seek medical attention right away. If your child under 18 months old has any signs of a respiratory infection, contact his pediatrician to determine if he needs to be seen.

The Bottom Line:

Parainfluenza infections are probably a lot more common than we all realize but are typically not a reason for concern. Watch for signs of difficulty breathing - especially in children - and be on the lookout for common complications from the cold and flu, which can occur after nearly any respiratory infection, including parainfluenza. If you aren't sure if you need to be seen or what to do, contact your health care provider to determine the right course of action for you.


"Parainfluenza." Medline Plus 15 Dec 10. US National Library of Medicine. 14 Jan 11.

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