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Mar.24.2022
 Viral Respiratory Infection

Viral Respiratory Infection

A respiratory infection is an illness that affects part of the respiratory system, such as the lungs, nose, or throat. A respiratory infection that is caused by a virus is called a viral respiratory infection.

Common types of viral respiratory infections include:
  • A cold.
  • The flu (influenza).
  • A respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection.

What are the causes?

This condition is caused by a virus. The virus may spread through contact with droplets or direct contact with infected people or their mucus or secretions. The virus may spread from person to person (is contagious).

What are the signs or symptoms?

Symptoms of this condition include:
  • A stuffy or runny nose.
  • A sore throat or cough.
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
  • Yellow or green mucus (sputum).

Other symptoms may include:
  • A fever.
  • Sweating or chills.
  • Fatigue.
  • Achy muscles.
  • A headache.

How is this diagnosed?

This condition may be diagnosed based on:
  • Your symptoms.
  • A physical exam.
  • Testing of secretions from the nose or throat.
  • Chest X-ray.

How is this treated?

This condition may be treated with medicines, such as:
  • Antiviral medicine. This may shorten the length of time a person has symptoms.
  • Expectorants. These make it easier to cough up mucus.
  • Decongestant nasal sprays.
  • Acetaminophen or NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, to relieve fever and pain.

Antibiotic medicines are not prescribed for viral infections.This is because antibiotics are designed to kill bacteria. They do not kill viruses.

Follow these instructions at home:

Managing pain and congestion

  • Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider.
  • If you have a sore throat, gargle with a mixture of salt and water 3–4 times a day or as needed. To make salt water, completely dissolve ½–1 tsp (3–6 g) of salt in 1 cup (237 mL) of warm water.
  • Use nose drops made from salt water to ease congestion and soften raw skin around your nose.
  • Take 2 tsp (10 mL) of honey at bedtime to lessen coughing at night.
    • Do not give honey to children who are younger than 1 year.
  • Drink enough fluid to keep your urine pale yellow. This helps prevent dehydration and helps loosen up mucus.

General instructions

A sign telling the reader not to smoke.
  • Rest as much as possible.
  • Do not drink alcohol.
  • Do not use any products that contain nicotine or tobacco. These products include cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and vaping devices, such as e-cigarettes. If you need help quitting, ask your health care provider.
  • Keep all follow-up visits. This is important.

How is this prevented?

Washing hands with soap and water.

A person covering her mouth and nose with a cloth while sneezing.
  • Get an annual flu shot. You may get the flu shot in late summer, fall, or winter. Ask your health care provider when you should get your flu shot.
  • Avoid spreading your infection to other people. If you are sick:
    • Wash your hands with soap and water often, especially after you cough or sneeze. Wash for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
    • Cover your mouth when you cough. Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze.
    • Do not share cups or eating utensils.
    • Clean commonly used objects often. Clean commonly touched surfaces.
    • Stay home from work or school as told by your health care provider.
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick during cold and flu season. This is generally fall and winter.

Contact a health care provider if:

  • Your symptoms last for 10 days or longer.
  • Your symptoms get worse over time.
  • You have severe sinus pain in your face or forehead.
  • The glands in your jaw or neck become very swollen.
  • You have shortness of breath.

Get help right away if you:

  • Feel pain or pressure in your chest.
  • Have trouble breathing.
  • Faint or feel like you will faint.
  • Have severe and persistent vomiting.
  • Feel confused or disoriented.

These symptoms may represent a serious problem that is an emergency. Do not wait to see if the symptoms will go away. Get medical help right away. Call your local emergency services (911 in the U.S.). Do not drive yourself to the hospital.

Summary

  • A respiratory infection is an illness that affects part of the respiratory system, such as the lungs, nose, or throat. A respiratory infection that is caused by a virus is called a viral respiratory infection.
  • Common types of viral respiratory infections include a cold, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection.
  • Symptoms of this condition include a stuffy or runny nose, cough, fatigue, achy muscles, sore throat, and fevers or chills.
  • Antibiotic medicines are not prescribed for viral infections. This is because antibiotics are designed to kill bacteria. They are not effective against viruses.

This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your health care provider.

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