Upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) are very common. We have all had one before and it did not land us in the nearest ER. A relatable example is a common cold. In this article, we will see why these infections happen and how best to prevent or treat them. We will also see situations that a URTI that requires a visit to the ER near you.
Our upper respiratory tract extends from our nose to the throat, pharynx, larynx, and bronchi. An infection anywhere along this path is an upper respiratory tract infection. Hence, beyond the common cold, there are other URTIs like sinusitis, laryngitis, epiglottitis, and tracheobronchitis. Sinusitis is an inflammation of the sinuses. The sinuses are air pockets in our skull. Our voice box is the larynx. When it gets infected, the condition is a URTI known as laryngitis. The epiglottis is located at the upper part of the trachea or windpipe. Its function is to protect the trachea from foreign particles that can get to the lungs. A swollen epiglottis is dangerous because it potentially blocks airflow into the trachea. This is an emergency and should be taken to an emergency room near you. The trachea branch into the left and right bronchi that eventually lead to the lungs. Inflammation of the trachea and bronchi is collectively referred to as tracheobronchitis.
URTIs are a result of bacterial or viral infections. The rhinovirus is mainly responsible for the common cold. Other viruses that cause URTIs include adenovirus, coxsackievirus, parainfluenza virus, and respiratory syncytial virus. Examples of bacteria that cause URTIs are group A and group C beta-hemolytic streptococci, Neisseria gonorrhea, and Corynebacterium diphtheria.
URTIs are very contagious. Spread from person to person is through aerosol droplets dispersed during coughing or sneezing. Direct hand-to-hand contact is another way the infections are spread. Risk of contracting the infection increases in crowded areas and low humidity conditions. During fall and winter, people are more likely to be inside and rates of infection rise. People with low immunity are also at risk of contracting the infection.
We all have an idea of what it feels like to have a common cold. It is always about the runny nose, congestion, sneezing, and cough. These are the characteristic symptoms of URTIs. Other symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, pain when swallowing, and wheezing.
The mainstay of therapy for URTIs in the management of symptoms. Cough suppressants, vitamin C, expectorants, and zinc work to improve symptoms for many people. Steam inhalation and gargling with salt water are home remedies that can help improve symptoms. Fever, aches, and pain are managed with pain relievers.
Frequent handwashing with soap is the best way to protect yourself against URTIs. Risk of contracting the infection increases when you touch your face frequently. You can come in contact with infected droplets when you touch high-risk surfaces like doorknobs. Washing your hands eliminates this risk even when you touch your face.
Avoid contact with people who are infected as much as you can. Hospitals, schools, institutions, and daycare centers are places where there is increased risk due to close contact. Wiping down objects like doorknobs, phones, and remote controls that have been touched by people who have URTIs prevents infection too. If you are sick, stay at home. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your elbow while sneezing.
If symptoms persist for more than 10 days, visit the Waco emergency room. The same goes for fever greater than 102°F for 3 days. Visit the emergency clinic in Waco if you feel pain or pressure in your chest. If you feel very tired or have little or no urine output, try to go to the nearest walk-in emergency room. You should see a doctor if you experience severe pain or have swollen glands in your neck or jaw. A sore throat that lasts more than a week should prompt you to visit your doctor too.