Upper Respiratory Infection (Adult)

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    Upper Respiratory Infection, Adult

    Upper Respiratory Infection, Adult

    An upper respiratory infection (URI) is a common viral infection of the nose, throat, and upper air passages that lead to the lungs. The most common type of URI is the common cold. URIs usually get better on their own, without medical treatment.

    What are the causes?

    A URI is caused by a virus. You may catch a virus by:
    • Breathing in droplets from an infected person's cough or sneeze.
    • Touching something that has been exposed to the virus (is contaminated) and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.

    What increases the risk?

    You are more likely to get a URI if:
    • You are very young or very old.
    • You have close contact with others, such as at work, school, or a health care facility.
    • You smoke.
    • You have long-term (chronic) heart or lung disease.
    • You have a weakened disease-fighting system (immune system).
    • You have nasal allergies or asthma.
    • You are experiencing a lot of stress.
    • You have poor nutrition.

    What are the signs or symptoms?

    A URI usually involves some of the following symptoms:
    • Runny or stuffy (congested) nose.
    • Cough.
    • Sneezing.
    • Sore throat.
    • Headache.
    • Fatigue.
    • Fever.
    • Loss of appetite.
    • Pain in your forehead, behind your eyes, and over your cheekbones (sinus pain).
    • Muscle aches.
    • Redness or irritation of the eyes.
    • Pressure in the ears or face.

    How is this diagnosed?

    This condition may be diagnosed based on your medical history and symptoms, and a physical exam. Your health care provider may use a swab to take a mucus sample from your nose (nasal swab). This sample can be tested to determine what virus is causing the illness.

    How is this treated?

    URIs usually get better on their own within 7–10 days. Medicines cannot cure URIs, but your health care provider may recommend certain medicines to help relieve symptoms, such as:
    • Over-the-counter cold medicines.
    • Cough suppressants. Coughing is a type of defense against infection that helps to clear the respiratory system, so take these medicines only as recommended by your health care provider.
    • Fever-reducing medicines.

    Follow these instructions at home:


    • Rest as needed.
    • If you have a fever, stay home from work or school until your fever is gone or until your health care provider says your URI cannot spread to other people (is no longer contagious). Your health care provider may have you wear a face mask to prevent your infection from spreading.

    Relieving symptoms

    • 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 a cool-mist humidifier to add moisture to the air. This can help you breathe more easily.

    Eating and drinking

    A comparison of three sample cups showing dark yellow, yellow, and pale yellow urine.
    • Drink enough fluid to keep your urine pale yellow.
    • Eat soups and other clear broths.

    General instructions

    A sign showing that a person should not smoke.
    • Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider. These include cold medicines, fever reducers, and cough suppressants.
    • 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.
    • Stay away from secondhand smoke.
    • Stay up to date on all immunizations, including the yearly (annual) flu vaccine.
    • Keep all follow-up visits. This is important.

    How to prevent the spread of infection to others

    Washing hands with soap and water.

    URIs can be contagious. To prevent the infection from spreading:
    • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer.
    • Avoid touching your mouth, face, eyes, or nose.
    • Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your sleeve or elbow instead of into your hand or into the air.

    Contact a health care provider if:

    • You are getting worse instead of better.
    • You have a fever or chills.
    • Your mucus is brown or red.
    • You have yellow or brown discharge coming from your nose.
    • You have pain in your face, especially when you bend forward.
    • You have swollen neck glands.
    • You have pain while swallowing.
    • You have white areas in the back of your throat.

    Get help right away if:

    • You have shortness of breath that gets worse.
    • You have severe or persistent:
      • Headache.
      • Ear pain.
      • Sinus pain.
      • Chest pain.
    • You have chronic lung disease along with any of the following:
      • Making high-pitched whistling sounds when you breathe, most often when you breathe out (wheezing).
      • Prolonged cough (more than 14 days).
      • Coughing up blood.
      • A change in your usual mucus.
    • You have a stiff neck.
    • You have changes in your:
      • Vision.
      • Hearing.
      • Thinking.
      • Mood.

    These symptoms may be an emergency. Get help right away. Call 911.
    • Do not wait to see if the symptoms will go away.
    • Do not drive yourself to the hospital.


    • An upper respiratory infection (URI) is a common infection of the nose, throat, and upper air passages that lead to the lungs.
    • A URI is caused by a virus.
    • URIs usually get better on their own within 7–10 days.
    • Medicines cannot cure URIs, but your health care provider may recommend certain medicines to help relieve symptoms.

    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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