Acute Upper Respiratory Infection

If you have ever experienced a cold, then you know what an acute upper respiratory infection (URIs) mean. An acute upper respiratory infection has to do with an infection of the upper respiratory tract – nose, throat, pharynx, larynx, and bronchi. This infection is quite contagious.

The common cold is one of the most popularly known URI. Other forms of URIs are epiglottitis, pharyngitis, sinusitis, and tracheobronchitis. Influenza, being a systemic illness, is not an acute URI.

Causes of acute upper respiratory infection

Viruses and bacteria are responsible for acute URIs. The viruses associated with acute URIs are adenovirus, rhinovirus, coxsackievirus, respiratory syncytial virus, parainfluenza virus, and human metapneumovirus. While the bacteria involved the development of acute URIs are Chlamydia pneumonia, groups A and C beta-hemolytic streptococci, Corynebacterium diphtheria, and Neisseria gonorrhoeae.

Types of acute upper respiratory infection

Viruses and bacteria are responsible for acute URIs. The viruses associated with acute URIs are adenovirus, rhinovirus, coxsackievirus, respiratory syncytial virus, parainfluenza virus, and human metapneumovirus. While the bacteria involved the development of acute URIs are Chlamydia pneumonia, groups A and C beta-hemolytic streptococci, Corynebacterium diphtheria, and Neisseria gonorrhoeae.

Acute upper respiratory infection
Photo Credit: Epainassist

Types of acute upper respiratory infection

The types of URIs are based on the parts of the upper respiratory tract affected. Aside the common cold, other types of URIs exist:

Sinusitis

Sinusitis: It is associated with the inflammation of the part of the upper respiratory tract called sinus.

Epiglottitis

Epiglottitis: The part involved is the epiglottis. The epiglottis is located at the upperpart of the trachea and is responsible for the protection of the airway from straying particles that might eventually reach the lungs. When the epiglottis is inflamed, it can block air flow into the trachea.

Laryngitis

Laryngitis involves the swelling of the larynx otherwise called the voice box.

Bronchitis

The bronchi are a pair of projections from the trachea. They project into the lungs. They are inflamed in bronchitis.

Risk factors for acute upper respiratory infection

The common cold has been reportedly said to be one of the most common reasons why people visit a doctor in the US. URIs easily spread when an infected person has bodily or fluid contact with an unaffected person. The following situations even increase the risk of catching a common cold:

  • When an affected person coughs or sneezes without using his hands or a handkerchief to cover his mouth and nose. This is simply because viruses can escape from his mouth and nose into the surrounding air.
  • When people are crowded like Sardine in a place that lacks good ventilation: People that are likely to find themselves in this situation are people in daycare centers, schools, and patients in the hospital.
  • When you are in a habit of always touching your eyes and nose: An infection will occur when infected secretions touch your nose or eyes.
  • During the fall and winter: This is from September to March. At this time of the year, people are going to be spending more time inside than outside.
  • When there is low humidity: Indoor heating promotes the thriving of URI-causing viruses.
  • When you are low in the functions of your immune system: You can easily catch a cold and spread it to others when your body defense mechanism is low.

Symptoms of acute upper respiratory infection

Symptoms of URIs are a consequence of inflamed mucous membranes that line the upper respiratory tract. They include:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Fever
  • Nasal congestion
  • Cough
  • Wheezing
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Sputum production
  • Pain During Swallowing

Diagnosis of acute upper respiratory infection

It is easy to diagnose even by the infected person! With an assessment of the affected person’s medical history and some physical examination on him, URIs can be diagnosed.

The following tests may be necessary for appropriate diagnosis:

  • Throat swab: It will be used to quickly diagnose group A beta-hemolytic strep.
  • Lateral neck X-rays: It will be used to rule out the presence of epiglottitis if difficulty in breathing is presented.
  • Chest X-ray: This will rule out any case of pneumonia.
  • CT scan: This will check for the presence of sinusitis.

Treatment of acute upper respiratory infection

Acute upper respiratory infections are usually treated to relieve symptoms. Most people willbenefit from using vitamin C, cough suppressants, zinc, and expectorants to alleviatesymptoms. They can as well be used to reduce the duration of the infection.Other notable treatments options are:

  • Nasal decongestants: They will greatly improve breathing. It should not be used repeatedly or for longer periods of time as it can bring back congestion in the nose. This phenomenon is called a rebound nasal congestion.
  • Steam inhalation: This usually goes hand-in-hand with gargling with salt water. They have proven to be helpful in getting symptoms relief from common cold.
  • Analgesics: Acetaminophen and NSAIDs can be readily obtained from nearby drugstores. They are good in reducing body temperature and pains.

Prevention of acute upper respiratory infection

The aim is to minimize exposure to agents that can cause and spread the common cold.

  • Frequent washing of the hand with mild soap and water.
  • Limiting bodily contact with sick people.
  • Disinfection by wiping down objects that will mostly be touched by people. Examples are phones, remote controls, doorknobs etc.
  • Whenever you sneeze or cough, cover your mouth and nose.
  • Stay at home until you are fine if you are sick.

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