Did you know that Upper Respiratory Infections, or URI’s, are one of the most common reasons for visiting the doctor every year? URI’s are also the most common illness resulting in missed days of work and school. And they only get more common around these winter months, which is why it is important to educate yourself on what URIs are, how you can treat them, and how you can avoid them.
Upper respiratory infections are contagious infections of the upper respiratory tract, which refers to the nose, paranasal sinuses, pharynx, larynx, trachea, and bronchi. Without a doubt, the common cold is the most well-known URI. Other types of URIs include sinusitis, pharyngitis, epiglottitis, and tracheobronchitis. While most cases are mild and go away on their own without treatment beyond rest, extra fluids, and chicken soup, some are severe enough to be life-threatening and require hospitalization.
The vast majority of URIs are caused by viruses, although bacteria can be responsible for a small percentage of cases. There are over 200 different viruses that can cause the symptoms of a URI, the most common being the rhinoviruses which are responsible for the common cold. Other common viruses include the corona-virus, para-influenza virus, adenovirus, enterovirus, and respiratory syncytial virus
Some of the most common symptoms of URIs are a stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, sneezing, cough, watery and/or itchy eyes. Other possible symptoms include fever, general malaise, headache and body aches. Most symptoms go away on their own within 7 to 10 days, however, if symptoms persist beyond that or start to worsen, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Many URIs can be self-diagnosed and managed at home, however you should go to your primary care doctor or an urgent care for an accurate diagnosis. A diagnosis can be made by reviewing a patients’ medical history, assessing their symptoms and performing a physical exam. Tests that are used to address more complicated cases of upper respiratory infections include throat swabs, lateral neck X-rays, chest X-rays, and CT scans.
Since most URIs are caused by viruses and are self-limiting, treatment for uncomplicated cases in an otherwise healthy patient is based on relief of symptoms. Antibiotics typically don’t help because URIs are viral and antibiotics are for bacterial infections. Make sure to drink plenty of fluids, especially water. You can also use salt water solutions or a neti-pot. Apply warm compresses to your cheeks, or drink a cup of warm tea. Add honey to your tea if you have a cough. Use pain relievers such as Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen to treat achiness, pain or fever greater than 101 F. Using over-the-counter decongestants, antihistamines and nasal saline alone or in combination may help decrease the mucous and improve symptoms. But do not take decongestant medication if you have high blood pressure, underlying heart disease, or history of stroke without consulting your doctor.
Decongestants, and cough and cold medications may also be harmful in young children below the age of 4, and have not shown efficacy in kids younger than age 6. Probiotics can stimulate the immune system to help fight viruses. Eating chicken soup has been shown in studies to help aid in reducing the underlying inflammation, and may therefore help ease symptoms. The average viral cold can last 7 to 10 days, and sometimes up to 2 weeks. Symptoms that are prolonged or worsening after that time period may be suggestive of a secondary infection, such as a bacterial sinusitis.
Lowering Your Risk
The key to staying healthy is to avoid activities that would put you at high risk for catching a URI. The following tips may help you prevent a URI before it happens:
- Ask potential visitors with cold or flu symptoms to visit when they’re feeling better.
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water.
- Get plenty of sleep and rest.
- Sneeze or cough into a tissue, then wash your hands.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth as these are the most common places that viruses and bacteria can enter your body.
- Talk to your doctor about getting an annual flu shot
Upper respiratory infections are common and many people get several each year. Although treatment is directed toward managing symptoms while the body’s own immune system fights the infection, the best way to manage URIs is through prevention.
If you feel you may have an URI, or want to know more about prevention, feel free to reach out to you friends at myDoc Urgent Care. We are here to help you and keep you healthy!