Know the basics
What is respiratory tract infection?
The respiratory tract is divided into the upper and lower airways. The upper airways or upper respiratory tract includes the nose and nasal passages, paranasal sinuses, the pharynx, and the portion of the larynx above the vocal cords. The lower airways or lower respiratory tract includes the portion of the larynx below the vocal cords, trachea, bronchi and bronchioles. The lungs can be included in the lower respiratory tract or as separate entity and include the respiratory bronchioles, alveolar ducts, alveolar sacs, and alveoli.
Respiratory tract infections (RTIs) are any viral or bacterial infection occured in both upper and lower airways. Normally, they devided into 2 categories:
- Upper respiratory tract infections – which affect the nose, sinuses and throat.
- Lower respiratory tract infections – which affect the airways and lungs.
How common is respiratory tract infection?
Respiratory tract infection is common as it is commonly assumed to be the one of the primary reasons why people go to the pharmacy. This medical condition is most common in children. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
Know the symptoms
What are the symptoms of respiratory tract infection?
Symptoms usually start 2 to 3 days after infection and last 2 to 14 days. Most are in the nose, throat, and ears which include sore throat, dry cough, low fever, watery eyes, hoarse voice, thick mucus, and stuffy, runny nose. Sneezing, headache, no appetite, and feeling tired are others.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:
- your symptoms suggest you may have pneumonia – for example, if you’re coughing up bloody mucus and phlegm
- you have a pre-existing heart, lung, liver or kidney condition
- you have a long-term lung condition, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma
- you have a condition that affects your nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis
- you have cystic fibrosis or bronchiectasis
- you have a weakened immune system
- your cough has persisted for more than three weeks, you’re losing weight, you have chest pain or if there are any lumps in your neck
It’s also recommended that you visit your GP if you’re over 65 years of age and you have a cough and two or more of the factors listed below, or you’re over 80 years of age and have a cough and one of the following factors:
- you’ve been admitted to hospital at some point during the past year
- you have type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes
- you have a history of heart failure
- you’re currently taking a type of steroid medication known as oral glucocorticoids – for example, prednisolone
Know the causes
What causes respiratory tract infection?
There are more than 200 different viruses and bacteria associated with RTI. Respiratory tract infection can spread in several ways. If you have an infection such as a cold, tiny droplets of fluid containing the cold virus are launched into the air whenever you sneeze or cough. If these are breathed in by someone else, they may also become infected.
Infections can also be spread through indirect contact. For example, if you have a cold and you touch your nose or eyes before touching an object or surface, the virus may be passed to someone else when they touch that object or surface.
The best way to prevent spreading infections is to practise good hygiene, such as regularly washing your hands with soap and warm water.
Know the risk factors
What increases my risk for respiratory tract infection?
- A weak immune system will decrease your body’s ability to fight off colds or bacterial infections.
- Exposure to contagious source.
- Unhealthy lifestyle and diet.
Understand the diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is respiratory tract infection diagnosed?
Seeing a doctor isn’t needed for a mild respiratory tract infection. Symptoms that are severe or last more than a week might need tests to check for strep throat, sinus infection or pneumonia, etc.
How is respiratory tract infection treated?
For common cold, only symptoms are treated, by getting sufficient bed rest, fluids (water, fruit juice, tea, carbonated beverages), gargling with warm saltwater, and use of acetaminophen for headache or fever. Eat a regular diet.
Over-the-counter cold remedies (decongestants, cough suppressants, acetaminophen and NSAIDs) may relieve symptoms but won’t prevent, cure, or shorten colds. Most also have side effects. Over-the-counter antihistamines may help a runny nose and watery eyes.
Sometimes people may get a bacterial infection following the cold that the doctor will need to use antibiotics to get rid of it.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage respiratory tract infection?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with respiratory tract infection:
- Saltwater drops can help with a stuffy nose.
- Do use a rubber bulb syringe to clean a really stuffy baby’s nose. Loosen thick sticky nasal drainage with drops of saltwater solution.
- Understand that cold weather is not likely to be associated with your chance of catching a cold or other infections.
- Washing hands frequently decreased the chance of getting infectious.
- Follow a well-balanced, healthy diet with citrus fruits and other sources of vitamin C as they can boost your immune system.
- Self-educate about the use of antibiotics. They are not used for common cold as they do not kill virus. If your doctor precribe antibiotics for a bacteria infection, strictly follow the order.
- Do call your doctor if you have symptoms of a secondary bacterial infection.
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.
Ferri, Fred. Ferri’s Netter Patient Advisor. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders / Elsevier, 2012. Print edition. Page 501.
Respiratory tract infections. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Respiratory-tract-infection/Pages/Introduction.aspx. Accessed July 23, 2016.
Review Date: May 30, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017