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United States
Health & Wellbeing

What is a Respiratory Tract Infection?

More than just colds and flu, respiratory tract infections have both viral and bacterial causes.

Respiratory Tract Infections are usually classified by location.

  • Upper Respiratory Tract Infection affects the sinuses, nose, larynx and pharynx. Common infections include laryngitis, rhinitis, pharyngitis, sinusitis, tonsillitis, the common cold and middle ear infections. Associated symptoms include sore throats, coughs, nasal congestion, a runny nose, and sneezing.
  • Lower Respiratory Tract Infection affects the trachea, lungs, bronchial tubes and bronchioles. Common infections include bronchitis, tuberculosis, flu, pneumonia or bronchiolitis. Associated symptoms include a cough with mucus, phlegm, breathlessness, and wheezing.
respiratory tract infection
Upper Respiratory Tract Infection affects the sinuses, nose, larynx and pharynx.

Respiratory Tract Infections can be caused by bacteria or viruses. Children are more likely to contract Respiratory Tract Infections since their immune system is less fully developed. They are usually transmitted through the air (droplets enter the air through sneezing and coughing, and others inadvertently breathe these in). They are also often spread when a sufferer touches surfaces after touching their nose, mouth or eyes.

Symptoms usually pass after 1-2 weeks. However, more severe complications can develop in children, older adults and those with a weakened immune system.

It is vital that you see your doctor if any of these symptoms persist for more than 3 weeks:

  • you are coughing up bloody mucus or phlegm.
  • you have an existing heart, lung, liver or kidney condition.
  • you have multiple sclerosis or another nervous system disorder, asthma, cystic fibrosis or bronchiectasis.
  • you have a weakened immune system or are experiencing any chest pain.
  • you have any lumps in your neck.

Cold and Flu Symptoms

Colds and flu are caused by different viruses, but share some of the same symptoms. Influenza infections come on much more suddenly, are usually more severe than colds causing you to be bedridden for a few days, and have a longer duration.

Cold symptoms include:

  • sore throat
  • runny/blocked nose
  • sneezing
  • coughing
  • weakness
  • high temperature or fever
  • fatigue
  • aches and pains
  • headache
  • earache

In addition to Common Cold Symptoms, Flu symptoms also include:

  • sudden fever ( you may feel weak and very cold)
  • extreme fatigue
  • severe aches and pains
  • and usually last up to 2 weeks

Prevention

Cold and flu infections are commonly spread via air bourne viruses, from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person. You can reduce your chances of contracting a cold or flu by ensuring you wash your hands regularly, minimize contact with or keep your distance from infected individuals and clean shared surfaces such as door handles and phones. You can reduce the risks of spreading the infection by always coughing/sneezing into a tissue and then disposing of the tissue and washing your hands as soon possible.

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