An upper respiratory infection occurs when a virus or bacteria invades the upper respiratory tract and multiplies, causing uncomfortable symptoms. Parts of the body typically involved in an upper respiratory infection include the throat, nose, larynx, and bronchial passages. Cold viruses are responsible for most upper respiratory infections.
Symptoms of an upper respiratory infection may include inflammation of the sinuses, coughing, sneezing, runny nose, fever, wheezing, headache, and sore throat.
Upper respiratory infections are usually caused by common viruses, including adenovirus, rhinovirus, respiratory syncytial virus, and others. Some upper respiratory infections may also be caused by bacteria.
Upper respiratory infections are easy to recognize based on their symptoms. However, depending on the situation, the doctor may use a throat swab to identify the pathogen causing the infection. If the patient is showing signs of pneumonia, the doctor may order a chest x-ray.
Many patients are able to recover from upper respiratory infections at home. If the infection is caused by a virus, treatment will focus on relieving the patient’s symptoms. Treatments recommended to patients with a viral upper respiratory infection may include pain medication for headaches, medication to reduce inflammation and fever, nasal decongestants, and cough suppressants. Some patients may also notice an improvement in their throat symptoms if they gargle with salt water.
If the doctor determines that the infection is caused by bacteria, they may prescribe antibiotics in addition to the treatments above. The antibiotics will kill the bacteria and eliminate the infection. Antibiotics aren’t effective in viral infections.
Patients may be able to reduce the risk of contracting an upper respiratory infection by avoiding contact with people who are sick. Frequent handwashing is also important. However, because viral pathogens are sent into the air when a sick person coughs or sneezes, some upper respiratory infections are unavoidable.
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