Upper respiratory tract infections (URIs) are typically caused by a viral infection (in approximately .5 – 2% of cases it is caused by a bacterial infection) and affect the nose, throat, and airways. URIs are among the most common reasons for a visit to the doctor and, on average, infect around 300 million Americans per year, and is the number 1 cause of improper antibiotic usage/prescriptions.
Since URIs are most commonly caused by a viral infection, they are usually contagious. Typically, transmission occurs when droplets from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person are inhaled, but they can also be transmitted by touching an infected object and then touching one’s mouth or nose.
The most common symptoms of a URI include:
- Sore throat
- Nasal congestion
- Sinus pain
URI vs. The Flu:
URIs (which include the common cold) are sometimes mistaken for the flu and vice versa, however, there are some important differences.
The most significant difference is severity. While both URIs and flu are typically caused by viral infections (albeit from different viruses), URIs tend to be relatively mild and don’t often result in serious health problems. Flu, on the other hand, can lead to pneumonia, hospitalization, and additional infections.
Likewise, not all symptoms are the same: Fevers, for example, are a common symptom of the flu but not for URIs. Conversely, URIs frequently lead to sore throats, sneezing, and stuffy noses, but those symptoms are rare for the flu. And in most cases, flu symptoms are quick to develop while URI symptoms are more gradual.
As with many viruses, limiting contact with infected individuals is key, but if you can’t avoid contact:
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds after touching an infected individual, and avoid touching your mouth, eyes, and nose after doing so.
- Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze (and cough and sneeze into your elbow, too!).
- Disinfect surfaces and objects (especially cups and glasses) that are frequently touched or touch the mouth.
- Stay home if you’re sick
In many cases, over-the-counter decongestants and other products can offer some relief. More effective treatment depends on the source of the infection – antibiotics can help only with bacterial infections while rest and focus on the symptoms are better for viral infections.
How do you know which type of URI you have (or if you have one at all)? We invite you to stop by your nearest PIC location or reserve your time online, and our providers can examine you to find the treatment that will make you feel better, faster.