Upper Respiratory Tract Infection

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Upper respiratory infection facts

  • Upper respiratory infections are one of the most common reasons of doctor visits.
  • Upper respiratory infections are the most common illness resulting in missed work or school.
  • Upper respiratory infections can happen at any time, but are most common in the fall and winter.
  • Vast majority of upper respiratory infections are caused by viruses and are self limited.
  • Antibiotics are rarely needed to treat upper respiratory infections and generally should be avoided, unless the doctor suspects a bacterial infection.
  • Simple techniques, such as, proper hand washing and covering face while coughing or sneezing, may reduce the spread of upper respiratory infections.
  • General outlook for upper respiratory infections is favorable, although, sometimes complication can occur.

What is an upper respiratory infection?

The upper respiratory tract includes the sinuses, nasal passages, pharynx, and larynx. These structures direct the air we breath from the outside to the trachea and eventually to the lungs for respiration to take place.

An upper respiratory tract infection, or upper respiratory infection, is an infectious process of any of the components of the upper airway.

Infection of the specific areas of the upper respiratory tract can be named specifically. Examples of these may include rhinitis (inflammation of the nasal cavity), sinus infection (sinusitis or rhinosinusitis) - inflammation of the sinuses located around the nose, common cold (nasopharyngitis) - inflammation of the nares, pharynx, hypopharynx, uvula, and tonsils, pharyngitis (inflammation of the pharynx, uvula, and tonsils), epiglottitis (inflammation of the upper portion of the larynx or the epiglottis), laryngitis (inflammation of the larynx), laryngotracheitis (inflammation of the larynx and the trachea), and tracheitis (inflammation of the trachea).

Upper respiratory infections are one of the most frequent causes of doctors visits with varying symptoms ranging from runny nose, sore throat, cough, to breathing difficulty, and lethargy. In the United States, upper respiratory infections are the most common illness leading to missing school or work.

Although upper respiratory infections can happen at any time, they are most common in the fall and winter months, from September until March. This may be explained because these are the usual school months when children and adolescents spend a lot of time in groups and inside closed doors. Furthermore, many viruses of upper respiratory infection thrive in the low humidity of the winter.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/30/2013

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Upper Respiratory Infection - Treatment Question: What treatment has been effective for your upper respiratory infection?
Upper Respiratory Infection - Contagious Question: Did you know your upper respiratory infection was contagious?
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Upper respiratory infections such as a sore throat or strep throat can be diagnosed easily with a rapid strep test.

Upper Respiratory Tract Infection

Sore Throat: Virus or Strep?

Medical Author: Melissa Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr, MD, FACP, FACR

Are you wondering if your sore throat requires antibiotics? Strep throat, named for the Streptococcus bacterium that causes the condition, is a particularly severe form of sore throat that is best treated with antibiotics. Strep throat can strike people of all ages, but only about five to ten percent of sore throats are caused by a bacterial infection. Most sore throats are caused by viral illnesses and are not responsive to treatment with antibiotics.

A true streptococcal infection of the throat often leads to excruciating throat pain accompanied by difficulty swallowing and even speaking. Fever may be present, and the tonsils are often covered with a whitish layer of pus. Cough and runny nose are not commonly related to strep throat, but it is possible to have a streptococcal infection along with a viral upper respiratory infection and symptoms of a cold.

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