First Aid Handbook: Upper Respiratory Infections

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Now that fall is here, it’s not uncommon to wake up one morning with that scratchy feeling in the back of your throat or find yourself having a sneezing attack at work. While many of us may experience seasonal allergies at this time of year, colds and upper respiratory infections may also be the cause of symptoms like these. The upper respiratory tract includes the sinuses, nasal passages, pharynx, throat, and larynx and an infection may occur in any or all of these passageways.

Let’s start with a few facts.

  • Upper respiratory infections (URIs) are one of the most common reasons for missing school and work, and, consequently, one of the most common reasons for seeing a healthcare provider.
  • URIs can occur at any time of the year but are more prevalent in the fall and winter. People tend to be indoors more, and germs spread as we are in close contact with one another. Many of these viruses also seem to thrive in the less humid air of the winter months.
  • The most common symptoms of URIs include: sneezing and runny nose, cough, nasal congestion and/or discharge, and scratchy or sore throat.

How can you keep from getting sick…or making other people sick?

  • Wash hands frequent and thoroughly.
  • Cover your mouth and/or face when coughing or sneezing. (Remember coughing into the crook of your elbow? That keeps germs from getting on your hands too.)
  • Be especially careful when in crowds or large groups of people such as public transportation and large gatherings.
  • Wipe down objects like doorknobs, remote controls, and light switches which may be touched by people with URIs.
  • Get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids.
  • Stay home from work or school if you are sick.

What should I do if I get sick?

Because the majority of URIs are caused by viruses, they are not treated with antibiotics unless your healthcare provider suspects a bacterial infection. Symptoms typically last 3-14 days; if they linger after that, an alternative diagnosis or secondary infection (bacterial infection, allergies, pneumonia, or bronchitis) may be considered.

In most cases, URIs are treated for relief of symptoms. Sometimes, cough suppressants, expectorants, vitamin C, and zinc may reduce symptoms or shorten the duration of illness. Other at-home and over-the-counter remedies include: nasal decongestants, steam inhalation, gargling with salt water, and use of pain relievers.

If symptoms persist for more than two weeks, you may have a more severe infection, or a secondary infection, likely bacterial and an antibiotic might be prescribed.  See a healthcare provider in this case. Also, consult with a healthcare provider if you have a fever greater than 103 degrees F, difficulty breathing or swallowing, a severe sore throat, dizziness, or experience loss of consciousness. Remember, Integrity Urgent Care is here for you – every day from 8 am to 8 pm. Call or come into one of our four locations.



Balentine JR, Nabili SN. Upper respiratory tract infection. [online]. Reviewed 21 Sep 2017 [accessed 30 Oct 2018].

Lights V [Cattamanchi A, MD, reviewer]. Acute upper respiratory infection. healthline [online]. Reviewed 23 Mar 2018 [accessed 30 Oct 2018].

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