Are you experiencing coughing, sneezing, or congestion? Are you producing nasal discharge? Have you had a sore throat or fever? If you can answer yes to one or more of these symptoms, you may be suffering from an upper respiratory tract infection.
What Is an Upper Respiratory Infection (URI)?
The name is self-explanatory — an infection of the upper respiratory tract — but the cause may not be. Most URIs are caused by any number of viruses. These microbes attack the delicate tissues of the airways leading to the lungs. Individual structures involved may include the sinuses, nasal passages, pharynx, and larynx.
Since these infections are almost always virus-based, there is typically no call for antibiotics. In the majority of cases, these drugs would be ineffective and could even be counter-productive. Unnecessary antibiotic use promotes antibiotic resistance.
Depending on which structure is affected the most, URIs can be more specifically categorized according to the primary site of infection and inflammation. Examples include sinusitis, rhinitis, tracheitis, and other specific diagnoses.
Is an Upper Respiratory Infection Contagious?
Yes. Viruses can be spread through the air, traveling surprising distances every time you cough, sneeze, or even shout. You also can pass the virus along through touch. Frequent hand washing is recommended to reduce this risk. For the same reason, you should avoid rubbing your eyes during cold and flu season. Research suggests that sick children are more likely to spread URI viruses than sick adults.
What Are the Causes of an Upper Respiratory Infection?
Many different viruses are capable of causing URIs. Examples include the rhinoviruses, adenoviruses, coxsackievirus and respiratory syncytial virus. Rarely, a bacterial infection or co-infection may exist. Diphtheria is caused by the Corynebacterium diphtheriae bacterium, for instance. It’s an example of a relatively rare bacterial URI.
What Are the Symptoms of an Upper Respiratory Infection?
Symptoms vary widely depending on the virulence of the virus, the site of primary infection, and the state of the person’s immune system at the time of infection. Symptoms may run the gamut from sneezing, watery eyes, and the annoying cough from a common cold to voice box inflammation that makes it difficult or painful to speak (laryngitis).
Infections that primarily target the upper airways of the lungs (the bronchial tubes) may include a painful, barking cough and low-grade fever. In rare cases, the patient may be suffering from “walking pneumonia,” a bacterial infection of the upper and lower respiratory tracts, which warrants medical attention.
What Are the Risk Factors for an Upper Respiratory Infection?
Having been exposed to fewer viruses than adults, children are at greater risk of contracting URIs. Adults often benefit from prior encounters with viruses, having built up immunity to them. Children also spend time indoors in close quarters at daycare or school, where conditions are ripe for the transmission of viruses.
Spending time in crowded environments where sick people gather, such as hospitals or nursing homes, may also elevate your risk. When the humidity indoors is low due to winter heating, a more favorable environment is created for viruses. Using a humidifier may help reduce this increased risk. Fall and winter, when people congregate indoors more often, are prime times for URIs.
When to Visit PhysicianOne Urgent Care
If you or a loved one is experiencing signs of an upper respiratory infection, you should know that PhysicianOne Urgent Care is open 7 days/week with extended hours to help. Whether it’s the common cold or something more serious, there’s no need to self-diagnose. Our experienced team will assess your symptoms and recommend the best treatment options. Contact us at 1.855.349.2828, or stop in today for a convenient walk-in visit. If you’re looking to save time, find a location near you and check in online!