What Is An Upper Respiratory Tract Infection?

It is a dangerous illness that affects the respiratory system, making it difficult for the related organs like the nose, throat, pharynx, larynx, and bronchi to work properly.

Calm down, it’s not always as bad as this sounds.

If you have ever had a cold then you have had an upper respiratory tract infection. The broad term refers to any contagious infection of the upper respiratory tract. General symptoms can include fever, fatigue, headache, pain during swallowing, wheezing etc.

It can be caused by both viruses and bacteria and the common cold is the most well-known URTI. Influenza, on the other hand, is not an upper respiratory infection because it is a systemic illness.

Types of Upper Respiratory Tract Infections

In addition to the common cold, there are other URTIs. These typically refer to the parts of the upper respiratory tract most involved in the infection:


Sinusitis is an inflammation of the mucous membrane that lines the sinuses (passages of the nose) resulting in symptoms like thick discharges from the nose, headaches, ear pressure etc. Sinusitis can be either acute or chronic.


Epiglottitis is inflammation of the tissue that protects your windpipe (trachea) from food and other foreign particles. The tissue AKA the epiglottis is a flap in the throat and when inflamed, blocks the flow of air into the trachea. This could be life-threatening.


Laryngitis is inflammation of the larynx or voice box from overuse or infection. This usually causes hoarseness, ‘losing your voice’ and sore throats.


This is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes that carry air to and from your lungs. It is often called a ‘chest cold’ and cam also be acute or chronic.

Who Is at Risk for Acute Upper Respiratory Tract Infections?

  • People in closed-in areas or crowded conditions
  • Anyone in hospitals, offices, schools etc. have increased risk because of close contact
  • People with a weakened immune system.


URTIs are mostly treated for the relief of symptoms. Some people benefit from the use of cough suppressants, expectorants, vitamin C, and zinc to reduce symptoms or shorten the duration. Other treatments include:

  • Nasal decongestants can improve breathing. But the treatment may be less effective with repeated use and can cause rebound nasal congestion.
  • Steam inhalation and gargling with salt water are a safe way to get relief from URTI symptoms.
  • Analgesics like acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help reduce fever, aches and pains.


The best protection against URTIs is frequent hand washing with soap and water. Washing your hands reduces exposure to secretions that can spread infection.

Other strategies include:

  • Avoid being in close contact with people who are sick
  • Wipe down objects such as remote controls, phones and doorknobs that may be touched by people in the house who have a URTI
  • Cover your mouth and nose if you are the one who is sick
  • Stay home if you are sick


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