If you’ve ever suffered from a cold, you are probably familiar with upper respiratory tract infections (URIs). It is a contagious infection that affects your upper respiratory tract – which includes your throat, nose, larynx, and bronchi. For an upper respiratory tract infection to develop, your body is exposed to a causative agent. Both viruses and bacteria can cause upper respiratory infections. However, the vast majority of the cases are caused by viruses and are self-limited. URIs are the most common illness that missed work or school. Though it can happen at any time, the fall and winter see the most frequent incidents of URIs. The common cold is among the most prevalent and well-known.
Types of Upper Respiratory Infections
Sinusitis is a condition characterized by inflammation or swelling of the sinuses. The healthy sinuses are filled with air. These air spaces are present near your nose or underneath your forehead. When a sinus gets blocked and filled with fluid, it’s more likely to get infected.
Epiglottis is the upper part of your respiratory tract – trachea. Its inflammation is referred to as epiglottitis. The epiglottis primary role is to prevent the entry of foreign particles into the lungs through your airways. An inflamed epiglottis can very dangerous as it can block the airflow into the tracheal tubes.
The larynx is also known as the voice box. It is involved in breathing, sound production, and protection of the tracheal tube against food aspiration. Inflammation or swelling of your larynx is called laryngitis.
Bronchitis is the inflammation of the bronchial tubes. Your right and left bronchial tubes arise from the main tracheal tube and conduct air to and from the respective lungs.
5. PERTUSSIS (WHOOPING COUGH)
Whooping cough is a violent and uncontrollable cough caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacterium. This bacterial lung infection makes the process of breathing very difficult. Anyone can get pertussis, but young children and infants are at an increased risk due to a weaker immune system.
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS
The signs and symptoms observed due to upper respiratory infection can widely vary and depend on numerous factors such as causative agent, the integrity of your immune system, overall health, and others.
However, the most common symptoms of upper respiratory infection are as follows:
- runny nose
- nasal congestion
- excess mucus production
- pain during swallowing
VIRAL AND BACTERIAL CAUSES
Viruses mostly cause upper respiratory infections. However, various bacterial strains can also result in upper respiratory infection. The disease can have different signs and symptoms, depending on whether it is viral or bacterial. The most common viral URIs can be identified by a runny nose, sore throat, cough, and difficulty sleeping. The use of antibiotics or antivirals can’t speed up the recovery process. Influenza is a viral infection that is frequently accompanied by a high fever and intense body aches. On the other hand, bacterial infections are the result of “secondary infection” – the illness was initiated by a virus, but a bacterial specie followed it. Unlike a viral infection, a bacterial URI manifests symptoms that last longer than the typical 10-14 days’ time span. Moreover, a high-grade fever develops that might be higher than a standard viral infection. In a bacterial URI, the fever gets worse after a few days instead of improving like in viral infections. Pneumonia, sinusitis, and ear infections are examples of secondary bacterial infections. The bacterial infection is considered more severe as there is a constant risk of sepsis (bacteria in the blood) or even meningitis (bacteria in the lining of the spinal cord and brain).
Respiratory infections have a very similar clinical presentation. Many people are aware of their condition. They may visit a healthcare professional for relief from the symptoms. The patient’s medical history and physical examination are of high diagnostic significance.
Moreover, the following tests might be used to confirm the diagnosis of URIs:
• Chest X-ray: Your physician may order a chest X-ray if pneumonia is suspected.
• Throat swab: This test detects antigen and can be used to diagnose beta-hemolytic streptococcal infection. This is also a very common test currently for the screening of Covid-19.
• CT scans: This test can be used to confirm the diagnosis of sinusitis
• Neck X-ray (lateral): If you are having difficulty in breathing, this test can be used to rule out epiglottitis.
The treatment for upper respiratory infection usually relies on limiting the discomfort from associating symptoms. The use of cough suppressants, zinc, and vitamin C supplements is widespread among people suffering from URIs. Some other treatment options include:
• Analgesics: NSAIDs and acetaminophen can reduce fever, pain, and body aches.
• Nasal decongestants: It can enhance breathing when used for a shorter period. Some of the common drugs include oxymetazoline (Afrin) and phenylephrine (Sudafed PE). If this treatment is prolonged, it can result in rebound nasal congestion.
• Steam inhalation: Hot steam and gargling with salty and lukewarm water can provide relief from respiratory infection symptoms. It is one of the safest methods among all available options.
COVID 19 PANDEMIC
The novel coronavirus is wreaking havoc on humanity from the start of the year 2020. The Covid-19 starts as an upper respiratory infection and then develops into a more serious lower respiratory infection. Currently, there is no vaccine for this viral infection. Exercising social distancing and adopting cautious routine are the best options right now.
The URIs are highly contagious and can spread very quickly among the population. There is no particular method to avoid getting a URI. However, the following preventative practices can significantly reduce your risk of contracting the upper respiratory infection:
- avoid crowded area
- stop smoking cigarettes
- disinfect frequently touched surfaces
- avoid contact with an infected person
- cover up your mouth and nose while sneezing or coughing
- frequently wash your hands – exercise regularly
- eat a healthy diet
The upper respiratory infection was previously taken as lightly. It was thought to clear up on its own without any treatment. Some minor treatments were used to get relief from the discomfort caused by associating symptoms of URIs. However, with the recent advent of the novel coronavirus, things have not been the same. You need to be on your toes at all times. Even a slightest of the symptom needs to be taken seriously. Get screened for the coronavirus if the infection is suspected. Practice social distancing and strictly follow protocols advised by healthcare professionals.