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Congestion & Upper

Respiratory Infections

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An upper respiratory infection or URI is an infection of the upper respiratory tract – your nose, throat, bronchi, pharynx, and larynx. Upper respiratory infection is a broad term, but is also typically known as the common cold, one of the many everyday illnesses causing people to be absent from work or school. 

Causes

Upper respiratory infections are typically caused by a virus that inflames the lining of the nose and throat. There are over 200 different kinds of viruses that may cause this, but the most common virus is rhinovirus. The other viruses that may cause this infection are the respiratory syncytial virus, coronavirus, parainfluenza virus, enterovirus, and adenovirus. 

Symptoms

When the virus enters your body, your immune system reacts to it in an effort to fight off an infection. Your body’s response can result in:

  • Runny nose
  • Congestion or difficulty breathing
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing

In infants and children, the following symptoms may also be present:

  • Inability to sleep
  • Scratchy throat
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fever (low grade)
  • Chills

Treatment

Because common colds are caused by a virus, your healthcare provider will focus on shortening the length of time that you feel ill and relieving your symptoms to make you as comfortable as possible while the virus runs its course. Your provider may also suggest additional measures to prevent developing more severe respiratory conditions such as bronchitis or a sinus infection, especially if your immune system is compromised.

Prevention

Fall and winter are considered “cold season.” This is largely because more people are indoors and school is in session, which means that germs are much more easily spread. Additionally, the humidity is low at this time of year, which makes the nasal passages drier and more vulnerable to infection. To prevent getting or spreading a cold, try these tips:

  • As much as possible, avoid contact with people who have a cold.
  • If you are sick with a cold, try to stay home and cover your mouth and nose.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Advise your children not to touch their eyes, nose, or mouth until their hands are washed.
  • Clean children’s toys and belongings.
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