Upper respiratory infection treatment
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About Upper respiratory infection
The upper respiratory tract is comprised of your sinuses, throat, airways, and lungs. When these areas are infected with a virus or bacteria, they may become inflamed. A cold is the most common form of URI. Other forms of an upper respiratory infection include:
- Laryngitis (inflammation of the vocal cords)
- Pharyngitis (inflammation of the pharynx, or the mucous membranes at the back of the throat)
- Sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses, commonly caused by another infection of the respiratory tract)
The infections may cause slighly different effects.
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Mucus production
- Sore throat
The symptoms of most viral infections will go away on their own within a week or two.
URIs are usually passed through microscopic droplets in the air that are expelled when an infected individual coughs, sneezes, or speaks. Inhaling these droplets can result in the infection passing to you. School children, or children who attend daycare, are at a greater risk of URIs as they are frequently exposed to other children who may carry infections.
- Poor hygiene (such as not washing your hands after using the restroom)
- Smoking/ secondhand smoke
- Time spent in crowded places such as airplanes, subways, buses, and schools
- Autoimmune disorders (such as lupus and diabetes)
Most viral infections are mild and do not require medical attention. However, you should talk to your health care provider if you experience any of the symptoms above along with:
- High fever (over 103 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Difficulty breathing/ wheezing
- Severe coughing/ coughing up blood
These symptoms may signify a more serious infection, such as influenza or COVID-19, and respond best to early treatment. If you experience any of the symptoms above, seek medical attention and avoid public areas until your condition has been diagnosed.
While medication won’t “cure” an upper respiratory infection, it can help relieve symptoms and speed up recovery. Common forms of medication used to treat URIs include:
- Pain relievers: Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can help reduce headaches and fever associated with a URI.
- Decongestants: Decongestant medication such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) are widely available as nasal sprays or oral tablets. These drugs can loosen up mucus in the nose and reduce the stuffiness associated with a URI.
- Cough suppressants: Over-the-counter cough medicine such as dextromethorphan (Robitussin) help to suppress coughing and reduce the symptoms of a URI.
- Antihistamines: Antihistamines such as Benadryl are widely available over-the-counter, and help reduce the sneezing and stuffiness associated with a URI.
If your doctor suspects that your upper respiratory infection has been caused by a bacterial pathogen, they may prescribe a course of antibiotics to treat the condition. URIs caused by bacteria are rare but usually respond to antibiotic medication.
Most URIs will start to go away within a few days. There are several methods you can use to reduce symptoms and encourage recovery. These self-care tips include:
- Drink plenty of fluids. To maintain hydration, drink plenty of water, fruit juice, and broths. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, as these substances can dry you out.
- Rest. To speed up recovery, make sure to get plenty of rest. Avoid social contact, and refrain from strenuous activity until your symptoms begin to go away.
- Use a humidifier. To relieve coughing and loosen mucus, use a cool air humidifier to keep your home moisturized.
- Supplements: Vitamin C, zinc, and echinacea may help shorten the recovery time of an upper respiratory infection. More evidence is needed to confirm this, so talk to your doctor to see if these alternative medicines are right for you.