Upper Respiratory Infection 101

Upper Respiratory Infections (URIs) are one of the biggest reasons people require doctors visits each year and can be so intense it causes many people to miss out on regular responsibilities like school or work.  These contagious illnesses occur most often in autumn or winter and infect areas such as the nose, sinuses, pharynx, larynx, trachea, and bronchi.  Most occurrences will take their course and go away by themselves with a little TLC, however, there are some cases that are so severe that they can be life-threatening and require a hospital visit.

Causes of URIs
Most URIs are the result of viruses, however, bacteria causes a small percentage of cases.  The most common virus to cause URI symptoms is the rhinovirus (the common cold) and there are more than 200 other viruses that cause URIs including coronavirus, parainfluenza virus, adenovirus, enterovirus, and respiratory syncytial virus.

URI Types
The common cold is the most common URI (hence the name!).  Other types include:

Bronchitis inflammation of the bronchi (the lungsair tubes)

Epiglottis inflammation of the upper part of the trachea (epiglottis)

Laryngitis inflammation of the larynx (vocal cords)

Pharyngitis inflammation of the pharynx (back of throat)

Sinusitis inflammation of the sinuses

Symptoms of URI typically subside by themselves with a little TLC after 7-10 days.  If they get worse or last longer, reach out to your doctor as soon as possible. Signs and symptoms of URIs include:

  • Headaches and body aches
  • Runny nose
  • Fever
  • Congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Sore throat
  • Increase of snot and mucus

Treating URIs
Most URIs are not treatable, because they are caused by viruses.  However, the symptoms can be treated at home with the medications:

  • Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen  – Helps relieve fever, pains from sore throat, body and headaches and sinus pressure.
  • Decongestants Helps relieve congestion, pressure, and sneezing.
  • Antihistamines Helps relieve stuffy nose, sneezing, and runny noses.
  • Saline nasal drops may provide relief from congestion and thick secretions.

Other things you can do at home to help relieve symptoms include:

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Make sure you stay hydrated by drinking 64 or more ounces of liquid.
  • Use a humidifier or take a hot, steamy shower.
  • Use heat pack on your face to reduce sinus pressure pains

The Spreading of URIs
The viruses that cause URIs are spread by direct and indirect contact.  People can inhale small droplets that have been propelled into the air by someone coughing or sneezing.  Or germs can be transferred from a sick person to something like a countertop, toy or doorknob to someone else.

Avoiding URIs
If you have COPD or another chronic lung condition, you are at higher risk of developing a URI.  To help lower the risk of developing a URI:

  • Stay away from infected individuals
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water
  • Avoid smoking and second-hand smoke
  • Make sure you are well rested and hydrated
  • Avoid touching mucous membranes until you have washed your hands
  • Properly vaccinate yourself and family members