Upper respiratory tract infection: All you need to know

Upper respiratory tract infection: All you need to know

Upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) is a (group of) viral infection that doesn’t cause any life-threatening condition in most cases. However, in certain cases such as Epiglottitis, the affected person may have to be put on ventilator support, which is in itself a pretty life-threatening situation.

URTIs are typically contagious – they spread from one person to the other. Therefore, to curb the spread, it is always a good idea to isolate the affected person so that others in the household don’t get it. Also, a person with a low immunity is more prone to getting an infection. Therefore, even if you come in contact with an affected person, depending upon your body’s resistance power, you mayn’t even get it.

Structurally, the upper respiratory tract comprises of the nostrils, the nasal cavity, the larynx, and the pharynx. The primary function of the tract is to facilitate the airflow into the trachea and the lungs. Although in the mild instances of URTIs, the airflow may remain relatively regular; in severe cases this may get blocked triggering serious repercussions.

  • Overview
  • Treatment

Upper Respiratory Tract Infection types

URTIs can be segregated into the following types depending on the part of the tract affected by the infection. Some of them are:

Common cold: This is the commonest as well as the mildest form of viral infection. It is capable of subsiding on its own in a day or two; however, if it persists beyond that, you must visit a doctor. Increasing the fluid intake, consuming a bland diet, and resting aplenty can easily help you overcome a common cold bout.

Influenza: The Influenza or flu virus remains active throughout the year. Therefore, it is a good idea to get yourself and your family immunized for the same. Influenza can be highly infectious; restrict social contact and keep yourself hydrated to recover fast.

Tonsillitis: When the tonsils get inflamed, it may make it difficult for you to swallow anything. Also, you may experience high fever, scratchy throat, headache, etc. You may have to visit your doctor for help to alleviate the discomfort and pain. While most cases are caused due to viral infection, some may even be set off due to bacterial infections as well. If you have developed a chronic case of tonsillitis, you may be recommended surgery to remove the tonsils.

Pharyngitis: If you have a sore or scratchy throat accompanied by swollen lymph nodes, fever and loss of appetite, it could be due to Pharyngitis. Although the signs appear similar to common cold, Pharyngitis is typically caused due to an underlying reason such as measles, common cold, whooping cough, etc.

Laryngitis: Another URTI affects us in the form of Laryngitis – or commonly identified by the hoarseness it adds to the voice. In this case, the infection causes inflammation in the voice box that causes pain in the throat as well as temporary loss of voice. Dry cough and fever are common signs of this condition.

Sinusitis: Sinus is a cavity in the facial bones that connect to the nasal cavities. Due to URTI, the sinuses may swell up and block the air passages, thereby triggering a host of signs to indicate that there’s something amiss. Loss of smell, headache, toothache (front teeth), nasal sound of speech, blocked nose, green/ yellow discharge from the nose and the typical sinus headache are some of the early indicators of sinusitis.

Otitis MediaIn Otitis Media, the middle ear gets infection, thereby causing inflammation and pain. Although this is treatable and a person should start feeling better within a few days of medication, untreated Otitis Media can be greatly painful and cause hearing loss in the patient.

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Upper Respiratory Tract Infection Symptoms

URTIs can affect different people differently – as is evident from the above. Naturally, some signs and symptoms would be peculiar to the area of infection. For the rest, the common signs and symptoms of URTIs include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sneezing
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Foul breath
  • Runny nose/ nasal congestion
  • Nausea/ vomiting/ body aches

Upper Respiratory Tract Infection Causes

The most obvious cause of URTI is viral or bacterial infection. Most viruses and bacteria that we come in contact with every day are naturally killed by our body’s immunity. However, those infections that our bodies aren’t able to deal with may end up making us sick. With URTIs too it is the same story.

There can be different ways in which we may get the infection:

  • Via inhaling the air that had droplets of the germs released by an affected person when he sneezed or coughed.
  • Via coming in contact with contaminated surfaces such as doorknobs, stationery, clothes, etc.

As shared above, not all URTI signs may indicate an emergency – some may subside by themselves and others may remain unattended. In the case of the latter, the infection can continue to travel down to the lungs and thereby trigger a serious issue there. Therefore, it’s best to consult a doctor to stay away from an emergency.

Upper Respiratory Tract Infection Diagnosis and Treatment

Upper respiratory tract infection diagnosis is mostly done via physically examining the person. Your doctor may evaluate the symptoms such as swelling in the lymph nodes, tonsils, redness of the eyes and throat, tenderness in the face, etc. He may also monitor your temperature levels and look for other signs to ascertain that there’s no other underlying cause triggering the signs.

Lab tests are mostly recommended for people who are hospitalized due to the severity of their condition. In such cases, X-ray, CT scan and blood culture tests may be suggested.

Some of the popular treatment-plans that doctors recommend include:

URTIs do not require surgery unless it is a repeated and severe case of tonsillitis or sinusitis. In such cases only shall your doctor recommend hospitalization and surgery; in other cases, you can easily be treated at home.

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