Upper Respiratory Tract Infection

  • Medical Author:
    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.

  • Medical Author: Siamak N. Nabili, MD, MPH
    Siamak N. Nabili, MD, MPH

    Dr. Nabili received his undergraduate degree from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), majoring in chemistry and biochemistry. He then completed his graduate degree at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). His graduate training included a specialized fellowship in public health where his research focused on environmental health and health-care delivery and management.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Quick GuideAsthma Symptoms, Causes, and Medications

Asthma Symptoms, Causes, and Medications

What is the treatment for upper respiratory infection?

As described above, most cases of upper respiratory infection are caused by viruses and therefore, require no specific treatment and are self-limited. People with upper respiratory infections typically diagnose themselves and treat their symptoms at home without requiring doctor's visit or prescription medications.

Rest is an important step in treating upper respiratory infections. Usual activities, such as, working and light exercising may be continued as much as tolerated.

Increased intake of oral fluids is also generally advised to keep up with the fluid loss from runny nose, fevers, and poor appetite associated with upper respiratory infections.

Treatment of the symptoms of upper respiratory infection is usually continued until the infection has resolved.

Some of the most common upper respiratory infection or cold medications used to treat these symptoms are the following:

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be used to reduce fever and body aches.
  • Nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) can be used for body aches and fever.
  • Antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) are helpful in decreasing nasal secretions and congestions.
  • Nasal ipratropium (topical) can be used to diminish nasal secretions.
  • Cough medications (antitussives) can be used to reduce cough. Many cough medications are commercially available such as dextromethorphan, guaifenesin (Robitussin), and codeine all have shown benefits in reducing cough in upper respiratory infections.
  • Honey can be used in reducing cough.
  • Steroids such as dexamethasone (Decadron) and prednisone orally (and nasally) are sometimes used reduce inflammation of the airway passage and decrease swelling and congestion.
  • Decongestants such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) Actifed oral, phenylephrine (Neo-synephrine nasal) can be used to reduce nasal congestion (generally not recommended in children less than 2 years of age and not recommended for individuals with high blood pressure).
  • Oxymetazoline (Afrin) nasal solution is a decongestant, but should only be used for short-term.
  • Combination medications containing many of these components are also widely available over the counter.

Some cough and cold medicines can cause excessive drowsiness need to be used with caution in children younger than 4 years of age and the elderly.

Antibiotics are sometimes used to treat upper respiratory infections if a bacterial infection is suspected or diagnosed. These conditions may include strep throat, bacterial sinusitis, or epiglottitis. Antivirals may occasionally be recommended by doctors in patients who are immunocompromised (poor immune system). The treating doctor can determine which antibiotic would be the best option for a particular infection.

Because antibiotics are associated with many side effects and can promote bacterial resistance and secondary infections, they need to be used very cautiously and only under the direction of a treating physician.

Inhaled epinephrine is sometimes used in children with severe spasm of the airways (bronchospasm) and in croup to reduce spasm.

Rarely, surgical procedures may be necessary in cases of complicated sinus infections, compromised airway with difficulty breathing, formation of abscesses behind the throat, or abscess formation of the tonsils (peritonsillar abscess).

Reviewed on 7/17/2015
References
REFERENCE: Meneghetti, A. et al. "Upper Respiratory Tract Infection." Medscape. Apr 07, 2014

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