A stuffy nose or runny sinuses. A cough that’s trying to clear mucus from the lungs. These are often the signs of the common cold, but did you know they’re also the signs of a respiratory infection?
Respiratory infections are incredibly common – most people are infected each year during cold and flu season. However, a simple respiratory infection can turn into a far more serious condition if left untreated, which is why it’s important to treat these illnesses as soon as they appear.
Early Warning Signs of Respiratory Infections
A respiratory infection is a condition in which either bacteria or viruses invade the upper or lower respiratory tracts, affecting the head and neck as well as your ability to breathe easily.
One of the most common types of respiratory infections you can contract is the common cold, Healthline reports¹. But sinus infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, and pharyngitis are all forms of respiratory infections too. Unfortunately, many of these conditions are highly contagious, which is why millions of people are affected by them each year. If not treated in time, a respiratory infection can become so severe that hospitalization is needed.
The following symptoms are typically associated with respiratory infections:
- Increased mucus in the lungs and nose
- Shortness of breath
How Are Respiratory Infections Diagnosed?
Often, respiratory infections don’t need a doctor’s diagnosis – people can often tell if they’re suffering from one on their own. However, if you aren’t feeling well and are experiencing the symptoms mentioned above, you may want to visit a doctor in order to get a clear diagnosis of what, exactly, you’re suffering from.
Diagnosing a respiratory infection will help you know just how contagious it is. Your doctor will listen to your heart and lungs for signs of distress or wheezing. The pathogens responsible for your infection can easily be identified by a doctor taking a sample of the mucous in the lungs or the nose, which is then sent off to a laboratory.
Doctors also frequently use chest x-rays to check for inflammation in the lungs. However, this is commonly done only in infections of the lower respiratory tract if there’s a chance you may have bronchitis or pneumonia.
How Are Respiratory Infections Treated?
When a virus is present in the body, there isn’t much you can do to get rid of it because antibiotics won’t affect it. So, doctors will often recommend patients simply rest for a few days until the infection runs its course.
Over-the-counter remedies can help reduce your symptom; you can try cold medicine or cough drops to soothe your most frustrating symptoms. Common cold medications can be purchased over the counter at your local pharmacy or drugstore — Tylenol, Sudafed, Advil Cold and Flu, Motrin, and similar medications can all be used to treat combinations of respiratory symptoms from stuffy sinuses to deep coughs to mucus issues. For bacterial-based respiratory infections, penicillin or another antibiotic may be prescribed.
If the symptoms of your respiratory infection don’t lessen within a week, it’s time to see a doctor. Your doctor will then be able to offer prescription medication (if needed) or remedies that can treat more serious types of respiratory infections. If your condition has worsened, you may need more medical care.
Fortunately, respiratory infections are both common and easy to treat and overcome. If you’re experiencing the symptoms of an infection, it’s a smart idea to get plenty of rest and visit your doctor to ensure it doesn’t progress into something worse. Even a simple respiratory infection can turn into bronchitis or pneumonia if left untreated.
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