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What are symptoms of an upper respiratory illness?

The upper respiratory tract includes the sinuses, nasal passages, and throat. Upper respiratory
infections are one of the most frequent causes of doctor’s visits with varying symptoms ranging from
runny nose, sore throat, cough, breathing difficulty, and extreme tiredness.
Although upper respiratory infections can happen at any time, they are most common in the fall and
winter months, from September until March.
The majority of upper respiratory infections are due to transient viral infections of the upper respiratory
tract, and DON’T REQUIRE ANTIBIOTICS. Most often, upper respiratory infections are contagious and
can spread from person to person by inhaling respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing. The
transmission can also occur by touching the nose or mouth by hand or other object to the virus.
Some people get the “cold” and the “flu” confused; this is a table to help decide which one you might
Frequent Common cold & viral upper respiratory infection (URI) symptoms


What would I do if I think that I have a viral upper respiratory infection (URI)?
Get plenty of rest and drink plenty of fluids. Also consider one or more of the following medications,
which are available without a prescription.
Symptom (s)
Over-the-Counter Medication
Fever and Pain
Acetaminophen (Tylenol®) is generally preferred. Ibuprofen (Advil®) and/or
Naproxen (Naprosyn) are other options.
“Stuffy,” clogged nose
Nasal decongestant (Afrin®, Neosynephrine®, or similar store brands work
within 20 minutes and last 12 hours. Local application minimizes systemic
side effects. Do not use more than 3 days in a row.
Oral decongestant (Pseudoephedrine [Sudafed®], others). (Note: these
products can be associated with insomnia, nervousness, and irritability in
some patients. Often decongestants are combined with other drugs
(especially antihistamines) in OTC medications. “-D” at the end of a
medication’s name suggests that the medication includes an oral
Blowing your nose
Guifenesin (Robitussin®, Mucofen®, Humibid LA®, Mucinex®, Humibid-e®).
These products thin mucous and can help thin any thick or discolored drainage. Suppress coughing
Dextromethorphan can be helpful as a cough suppressant, especially for
nighttime use.
(Nyquil®, Tylenol Cold & Sinus®, others) can provide significant relief. Be
sure to read product labels to find the best cold preparation to match your symptoms and to determine if that medicine is safe for you. They often contain a sedating antihistamine, so avoid driving or use of machinery after administration.
When should I seek treatment?
Viral infections can sometimes are associated with bacterial overgrowth and occasionally lead to a
bacterial infection (bronchitis, ear infections, sinusitis), which typically requires antibiotic therapy. Viral
URIs also may worsen asthma symptoms (wheezing) in patients with asthma; such symptoms also
require further evaluation and treatment.
Seek medical advice or treatment if:
 Symptoms are getting worse after 7 days  Symptoms are unchanged or getting worse after 10 days  You experience shortness of breath or have any respiratory difficulty  You experience a high fever (> 101.5°F or 38.5°C)  You develop eye pain/swelling and/or vision changes  You develop severe head or facial pain/swelling
How can I prevent viral URIs?

Wash your hands frequently

Cold and flu viruses are spread by touching infected persons that have come in contact with the virus
and then touching one’s nose or mouth. Frequent hand washing is important to prevent this process.
Inhalation of infected particles in the air also can spread colds/respiratory viral infections, so watch
close contacts who are coughing or sneezing.


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