Upper respiratory infections (URI's) illnesses develop due to acute infection, most often a virus but also, potentially, bacteria. The nose, larynx, pharynx, and sinuses are affected by URIs. Symptoms range from the common cold to laryngitis or sinusitis, but most infections pass after a week or two. Upper respiratory infections can affect anyone, regardless of age, race, or gender.
URIs are the most common reason for visits to the doctor. A study shared by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information confirmed between 80%-90% of patients who visit the doctor do so because of one or more URI symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, and a stuffy or runny nose.
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If you have the symptoms of an upper respiratory infection, you should consider seeing a doctor if you are feeling very unwell for longer than a few days or if you also have symptoms of pneumonia. Additionally, people with pre-existing heart, lung, liver, or kidney conditions, cystic fibrosis, and weakened immune systems should see a physician sooner rather than later.
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Having being exposed to fewer viruses than adults, children are most vulnerable to contracting URIs, because they are still building immunity to viruses. People who spend time in confined spaces with many people, such as crowded offices or waiting rooms, are also at greater risk. Older adults are also more susceptible to contracting upper respiratory infections.
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Medications are not usually prescribed for upper respiratory infections as antibiotics are not effective in fighting viral infections. However, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics if he or she suspects the cause of the URI is a bacterial infection, as in the case of ear infection, bacterial sinusitis, or strep throat.
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URIs are contagious and be spread from person to person. Infection with the virus usually occurs some time before the individual notices symptoms, which means many people are contagious before they begin taking precautions. Adhering to basic hygiene practices can help curb the spread of the infection.
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Viruses generally cause upper respiratory infections such as the common cold and influenza. Treatment targets symptoms rather than the cause, leaving the body's immune system to fight the infection at the source. Common symptoms of an upper respiratory infection include a runny nose, post-nasal drip, cough, and nasal congestion.
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There are several risk factors for contracting a URI. People who spend time in crowded spaces populated by sick people are at high risk. During winter and fall, people tend to congregate indoors, which creates an ideal environment for the spread of URI due to indoor humidity, which creates a favorable environment for viruses to spread, and close contact.
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Most common colds resolve on their own with few complications. Sometimes, the inflammation from the upper respiratory infection may cause drainage problems in the sinuses or middle ear. This can lead to secondary bacterial infections such as sinusitis or otitis media. Dehydration is always a potential complication of infections.
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You can treat symptoms of URIs at home by taking over-the-counter painkillers, drinking plenty of fluids, and rest. Antibiotics are only effective if bacteria is the cause of the infection. The symptoms of upper respiratory infections usually pass within one to two weeks.
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Certain measures can help prevent the contraction of an upper respiratory infection. The most important step is to stay away from people who are ill and stay home if you are the one infected. Avoid touching your nose, eyes, and mouth with unwashed hands -- sneeze into a handkerchief or sleeve rather than your hands. Be sure to wash regularly with soap to ward off lingering viruses or bacteria.
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