Ask any doctor- your GP or your ENT specialist– and they’ll tell you that upper respiratory tract infections (URI) are the most frequently encountered illness in their practice. Two of these, the common cold and sinusitis, are misunderstood and mistreated. These infections may not be fatal but complications can set in and require hospitalization.

\The upper respiratory tract comprises the nose, sinuses, nasal cavity, mouth, throat, larynx, and bronchi. These cavities and structures have mucus membranes and contribute to producing mucus. The mucus produced serves as a filter to inhaled air, removing harmful particles like smoke, carried away by cilia present in the respiratory tract.

In cases of infection, there’s often inflammation of these upper respiratory tract functions. These infections can be named according to the area that is infected. Examples are Sinusitis( inflammation of the sinuses), Laryngitis(Inflammation of the larynx), and so on. This article will teach you more about this infection and its cure. 


Facts about upper respiratory tract infections

  • It is caused commonly by viruses and less frequently by bacteria.
  • It occurs at any time but more prevalently during cold weather conditions as the causative agents thrive better in this environment.
  • These are mainly communicable and can spread through inhaling respiratory droplets obtained from an infected individual’s coughing or sneezing.
  • The symptoms include nasal congestion, running nose, sneezing, coughing, sore throat, speech hoarseness, loss of smell, fever, and headache.
  • Washing your hands properly, avoiding contact with people who present these symptoms, covering your nose and mouth when you sneeze, or cough are all ways to prevent the spread of these infections.
  • Upper respiratory tract infections are more severe in pediatric ( children), geriatric (the elderly), and immunocompromised individuals.
  • Diagnosis is made by physical examinations, reviewing presenting symptoms, and lab testing.

How upper respiratory infection occurs

These infections are caused by pathogens such as viruses or bacteria. These pathogens enter the body system by invading the host’s mucous membranes in the upper respiratory tract. Usually, the hairs in the nose, mucus, and the cilia present in the mucous membranes help trap them to be killed when they enter the stomach. The immune system also helps to engulf invading microorganisms.

However, these pathogens adopt different mechanisms to evade the immune system. They may change their outer structure to avoid being recognizable. Some produce harmful chemicals to cause impairment of the immune system, and some adhere very strongly to the mucus membranes to prevent destruction.


Risk factors for upper respiratory tract infections

Some common factors may predispose a person to upper respiratory tract infections. These include

  1. Poor hygiene practices: Failure to wash your hands or wash them thoroughly can cause you to get infected.
  2. Close contact with people in closed spaces.
  3. Smoking: This destroys the cilia and impairs the resistance and engulfing power of the mucus and mucous membranes, leading to a greater risk of infection.
  4. Diseases: Diseases that cause the immune system to be compromised, such as HIV, can lead to increase susceptibility to upper respiratory tract infections.
  5. Facial and upper airway trauma.

When to seek medical attention.

Many people who treat their symptoms at home tend to find relief and get better. However, it is advisable to seek medical attention if

  1. Your symptoms are worsening.
  2. It has lasted for more than two weeks.
  3. Swallowing and breathing are difficult.
  4. There’s recurrence in infection 
  5. You’re badly dehydrated.

Treatment of upper respiratory tract infections

These include

  1. Antibiotics as prescribed by a licensed medical practitioner if diagnosed as a bacterial infection.
  2. Antivirals for patients that are immunocompromised.
  3. Drugs for relief of pain and fever such as acetaminophen, Ibuprofen, diclofenac.
  4. Antihistamines like cetirizine, diphenhydramine to reduce allergies and nasal congestion.
  5. Antitussives like guaifenesin suppress coughs.
  6. Decongestants such as phenylephrine to reduce congestion.
  7. Honey for alleviating cough- should not be used for neonates and infants to cause infant botulism.

In conclusion, these infections are mostly treatable at home, but you may need to go for a medical check-up or physical examination tests if the symptoms become overwhelming. Be sure to curtail the spread of these infections by taking the preventive methods stated in this article.

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