Respiratory Infection


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What is respiratory infection?

Respiratory infection refers to any of a number of infectious diseases involving the respiratory tract. An infection of this type is normally further classified as an upper respiratory tract infection (URI or URTI) or a lower respiratory tract infection (LRI or LRTI). Lower respiratory tract infections are generally more serious than upper respiratory infections.

Typical infections of the upper respiratory tract include tonsillitis, pharyngitis, laryngitis, sinusitis, otitis media, certain types of influenza, and the common cold. Symptoms of URIs can include cough, sore throat, runny nose, nasal congestion, headache, low grade fever, facial pressure and sneezing.

LRIs are the leading cause of death among all infectious diseases. The two most common LRIs are bronchitis and pneumonia. Influenza affects both the upper and lower respiratory tracts, but more dangerous strains such as the highly pernicious H5N1 tend to bind to receptors deep in the lungs.

How common is respiratory infection?

Females are more commonly affected with infections of the upper respiratory tract, specifically sinusitis, tonsillitis. On the other hand, males are more commonly affected with otitis media, croup, and most important, lower respiratory tract infections.

However, it can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of respiratory infection?

When respiratory infection affects the nose and throat, symptoms are usually mild and resemble those of the common cold. They include:

  • Cough.
  • Stuffy or a runny nose.
  • A mild sore throat.
  • Earache.
  • Fever, usually at the beginning of the illness. A high fever does not mean the illness is more severe.

Babies may have additional symptoms, including:

  • A decreased interest in their surroundings.
  • Listlessness and sleepiness.
  • Fretfulness (irritability) and not sleeping well.
  • Poor feeding.
  • Apnea, where breathing stops for about 15 to 20 seconds. This usually occurs only in babies who were born prematurely and who also have a history of apnea.

Unless you or your child has an increased risk of complications from respiratory system, it usually is not important to know which causes symptoms. Respiratory infection sometimes leads to bronchiolitis or pneumonia or both. Symptoms of these complications include:

  • Difficulty breathing, which may include breathing more rapidly than normal.
  • Listlessness and sleepiness.
  • Coughing that is getting worse. A child may choke or vomit from intense coughing.
  • Lethargy, increased tiredness, decreased interest in surroundings, or loss of interest in food.

When should I see my doctor?

Early diagnosis and treatment can stop respiratory infection from worsening, or another medical emergency, so talk to your doctor as soon as possible to prevent this serious condition.

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consulting with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes respiratory infection?

While some causes of the condition are unknown, a few have been identified, include:

  • Adenoviruses: Adenoviruses are a class of microorganisms that can cause respiratory infection. Adenoviruses consist of more than 50 different types of viruses known to cause the common cold, bronchitis, and pneumonia.
  • Pneumococcus: Pneumococcus is a type of bacterium that causes meningitis. It can also trigger certain respiratory illnesses like pneumonia.
  • Rhinoviruses: Rhinoviruses are the source of the common cold. Colds are uncomplicated in most cases. However, in the very young, older adults, and those with a weak immune system, a cold can lead to respiratory infection.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for respiratory infection?

It is almost impossible to avoid viruses and bacteria, but certain risk factors increase your chances of developing respiratory infection. The immune systems of children and older adults are more prone to being affected by viruses. Children are especially at risk because of their constant contact with other kids who could be virus carriers. Children often don’t wash their hands regularly. They rub their eyes and put their fingers in their mouths, resulting in the spread of viruses.

People with heart disease or other lung problems are more likely to contract a respiratory infection. Anyone whose immune system might be weakened by another disease is at risk. Smokers also are at high risk and have more trouble recovering.

Diagnosis & Treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.


How is respiratory infection diagnosed?

In a respiratory exam, the doctor focuses on the patient’s breathing. They will check for fluid and inflammation in the lungs by listening to your breath sounds in the lungs. The doctor may peer into your nose and check your throat. If caught early, over-the-counter medications can help alleviate symptoms while the virus runs its course. However, if the infection is advanced, an X-ray or CT scan may be necessary to check the condition of the lungs.

Lung function tests have been useful as diagnostic tools. Pulse oximetry, also known as pulse ox, can check how much oxygen gets into the lungs. A physician may also need a sputum (material coughed up from the lungs) sample to check for the type of virus causing the disease.

How is respiratory infection treated?

With many viruses, there are no known cures. Your doctor may prescribe medications to manage your symptoms while monitoring your condition. If the viral infection results in a secondary infection caused by bacteria, tests will help your doctor determine the appropriate type of antibiotic to use.

Lifestyle changes & Home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage respiratory infection?

These home remedies may help you reduce the risk of respiratory infection, include:

  • Wash your hands frequently, especially after you’ve been in a public place.
  • Always sneeze into the arm of your shirt or in a tissue. Although this may not ease your own symptoms, it will prevent you from spreading infectious diseases.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes and mouth, to prevent introducing germs into your system.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: February 19, 2017 | Last Modified: March 7, 2017

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