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Respiratory Tract Infection: An Ultimate Overview

Respiratory Tract Infection: An Ultimate Overview
Published : Feb 03, 2024
Last Updated : Feb 07, 2024

When it comes to respiratory tract infections, they are considered infections of the parts of your body that are involved in breathing like the lungs, sinuses, throat, or airways. Though most respiratory tract infections get better without seeking treatment but sometimes you might need to visit a doctor.

What is a respiratory tract infection?

A respiratory tract infection affects your respiratory system, a part of your body that is responsible for breathing. There are mainly two types of respiratory tract infections:

  • Upper respiratory tract infections
  • Lower respiratory tract infections

What do you mean by upper respiratory tract infection?

Such type of infections usually affects your throat as well as your sinuses. Upper respiratory infections comprise:

  • Laryngitis
  • Common cold
  • Pharyngitis
  • Epiglottitis
  • Sinusitis

What is a lower respiratory infection?

A lower respiratory infection is responsible for affecting your airways and lungs. However, the infection of lower respiratory usually last for a long time and is more serious. Lower respiratory infections include:

  • Chest infection
  • Bronchitis is a lung infection that leads to coughing and fever
  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchitis is a lung infection that affects children of young age

What are the symptoms of respiratory tract infection?

The symptoms of respiratory tract infection mainly include:

  • A sore throat
  • Cough that might bring up mucus
  • Feeling unwell
  • Sneezing
  • Muscle aches
  • High temperature
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Headache
  • Breathlessness, wheezing, or tight chest

In case, you experience any of the symptoms then contact the doctor immediately to avoid serious complications.

How is an upper respiratory infection caused?

When a virus enters your respiratory system, you suffer from an upper respiratory infection. You can suffer from upper respiratory tract infection by touching an infected surface or shaking hands with a person who is sick. The germs from your hands enter the body and infect it.   

Who can get an upper respiratory tract infection?

This type of infection is common and anyone can catch it. However, certain people have more risk of catching this type of infection. Children are at more risk as they are in close contact with children who can carry a virus.   

Also, children do not wash their hands frequently as compared to adults. They also put their fingers in their mouth, nose, and eyes too often, helping germs to spread quickly.

In case, you suffer from problems with the heart or lungs are at more risk of experiencing an upper respiratory infection. People with the weak immune system might have serious infections. Most of time Antibiotic medicines are very helpful in treating respiratory Infection.

Symptoms of upper respiratory infection

While suffering from an upper respiratory infection, you might experience the following symptoms:

  • Hoarse voice
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Red eyes

How is the upper respiratory infection diagnosed?

Depending upon the physical exam and your symptoms, the doctor will diagnose the infection. The doctor will also look inside your nose, ears, throat and listen to your chest in order to examine breathing. After this, you don’t need other tests.

In case, the doctor thinks you have a lung infection or another infection then the doctor might conduct a:

  • Throat swab
  • Lung (chest) X-ray
  • Nasal swab
  • Lung CT scan
  • Lung function test to check the working mechanism of your lungs
  • Sputum test, when you cough up some phlegm from the lungs

How long can an upper respiratory infection last?

Upper respiratory infections usually last for one to two weeks. Generally, the infection goes on its own. However, over-the-counter pain medicines can help you to feel better. To stay hydrated, you need to increase the intake of fluids.

In case, the symptoms last for more than two weeks then consult the doctor immediately. You might suffer from another condition that causes the symptoms like bronchitis or pneumonia.

What are the symptoms of lower respiratory infection?

Depending upon the seriousness of your infection, the symptoms of lower respiratory infection can differ. People suffering from less serious infections can experience symptoms similar to the common cold like:

  • A low fever
  • A stuffed up or runny nose
  • A dull headache
  • Dry cough
  • A mild sore throat

In more serious infections, you might experience symptoms like:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • A serious cough that can produce phlegm
  • Fever
  • Wheezing
  • Rapid breathing
  • A blue tint to the skin

What is the difference between upper and lower respiratory tract infections?

Lower respiratory tract infections usually differ from upper respiratory tract infections by the area of the respiratory tract they disturb. While lower respiratory tract infections involve the airways below the voice box. On the other hand, upper respiratory tract infection takes place in the structures present in your larynx or above.

People suffering from lower respiratory tract infections can experience coughing as their primary symptom.

However, people with upper respiratory tract infections can feel symptoms usually above their neck like sore throats, sneezing, and headaches. They can also experience body aches, particularly if they suffer from a fever.

How to treat respiratory tract infections yourself?

It is important to know that most respiratory tract infections pass within one or two weeks. However, some symptoms can be treated at home.

Here are a few things that you can try to treat minor respiratory tract infections:

  • To loosen any mucus and make it easier to cough up, you need to drink lots of water
  • Take plenty of rest
  • To make breathing easy and clear up your chest mucus, you must raise your head while sleeping with the help of extra pillows
  • Intake of hot lemon and honey drinks can soothe your cough quickly
  • Stay at home and avoid contact with other people, if you suffer from high temperatures or do not feel to carry out normal activities
  • In case, you have a sore throat then gargle with warm salty water twice a day
  • Use painkillers to bring down your fever. Also, the medicine will help to ease headaches, sore throat, and muscle pain

Therefore, if you suffer from a respiratory tract infection, then meet the doctor and get the right treatment to avoid worsening the infection.