Upper respiratory infections (URIs) are a commonly misunderstood condition affecting both children and adults. Richard Samuel, MD, medical director for Adventist HealthCare Urgent Care, answers common questions about upper respiratory infections.
Q – What is an upper respiratory infection?
Dr. Samuel – URIs describe a variety of viruses affecting your nose, throat and airways. The most common URI we see at our urgent care centers is the common cold. URIs also include several viral conditions frequently affecting young children, such as hand, foot and mouth disease. The spread of upper respiratory infections are responsible for higher numbers of sick days for employees, missed school days for children and frequent visits to the doctor’s office. This is why it’s important for children and adults to wash their hands frequently and stay home on days when they’re not feeling well.
Q – What are the common symptoms of upper respiratory infections?
Dr. Samuel – Upper respiratory infection symptoms typically vary from person to person and usually develop three to five days after exposure to a virus. Common symptoms include a sore throat, sneezing, congestion and cough. Some types of infections cause slight aching, mild fevers and nasal discharge that changes color throughout the course of the illness.
Q- What is the difference between an upper respiratory infection and the flu?
Dr. Samuel – Many of my patients confuse these conditions because they share similar symptoms, such as congestion, sore throat and cough. URI symptoms typically develop gradually and do not produce the high fevers, chills and severe aches seen with the flu. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell which condition you have in the beginning, so talk with your doctor if you are unsure.
Q – How long do most upper respiratory infections last?
Dr. Samuel – Most upper respiratory infections can last for up to 10 days and usually goes away on its own, without treatment. Prolonged and worsening symptoms may indicate a more severe sinus condition, such as, bronchitis, pharyngitis or sinusitis.
Q – How can I treat an upper respiratory infection?
Dr. Samuel – For most URI cases, over-the-counter medications, such as decongestant nasal sprays and antihistamines, can help ease your symptoms. Check with your doctor before taking any over the counter medications. Getting enough rest and drinking fluids may also speed up the healing process. Using a clean humidifier, gargling with salt water or drinking hot beverages can help relieve congestion and sore throats. Because most upper respiratory infections are caused by viruses instead of bacteria, antibiotics are ineffective in treating most cases. If you develop ear pain, aches and other more severe symptoms or feel ill for a prolonged period of time, talk with your doctor or visit an urgent care center.