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Is Upper Respiratory Infection a Contagious Disease?

Feb 13, 2024

Common Illnesses Treatment

is upper respiratory infection contagious

Upper respiratory infections (URIs) are among the top three diagnosed health conditions in an outpatient setting in the U.S., with nearly 10 million outpatient visits each year. They are most commonly seen in children with up to 8 infections yearly, directly impacting over 20 million missed school days. In comparison, adults are less vulnerable to upper respiratory infections, with most getting URIs twice or thrice a year.

This blog offers vital insights into upper respiratory tract infections, including how they differ from lower respiratory infections, their symptoms, types, and causes, whether URIs are contagious, how they can be prevented, and the diagnosis of URIs.

What Is an Upper Respiratory Infection?

An upper respiratory infection is a contagious bacterial or viral infection that affects the nasal passages, sinuses, and throat. You are more likely to have a runny nose, cough, and sore throat. While the symptoms subside independently with proper rest, adequate fluids, and over-the-counter pain medications, you must consult your physician if they persist for more than two weeks.

Difference Between Upper and Lower Respiratory Infections

When you experience physical discomfort caused by sneezing, coughing, scratchy throat, or other breathing issues may be due to an infection in your respiratory system. Depending on the location of the infection, respiratory illnesses are classified as upper respiratory infections and lower respiratory infections. 

Upper respiratory infections are milder infections that affect the upper respiratory tract, which includes your nose, mouth, sinuses, pharynx, and larynx, and most do not need treatment. The upper respiratory infections include the common cold, epiglottis, laryngitis, pharyngitis, and sinusitis.

Lower respiratory infections affect the airways and lungs and are often more severe and need necessarily medical attention. They include bronchitis, bronchiolitis, chest infection, and pneumonia.

Symptoms of Upper Respiratory Infections

If you have an upper respiratory infection, you may have the following symptoms:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing 
  • Mild fever
  • Runny nose
  • Blocked nasal passage
  • Sore throat
  • Scratchy voice
  • Lack of energy
  • Tender lymph nodes

Though not very common, you may also experience these symptoms of upper respiratory infection:

  • Body pain
  • Headache
  • Bad breath
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting 
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Itchy, red, and watery eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • Sinus pain

Common Types of Upper Respiratory Infections

URIs have different types depending on the area in the upper respiratory tract where you have the infection. They are:

  • The Common Cold: Affects the nares, pharynx, hypopharynx, uvula, and tonsils.
  • Epiglottis: Targets the upper part of the larynx or epiglottis.
  • Laryngitis: Impacts the larynx (voice box).
  • Pharyngitis: Involves the pharynx, uvula, and tonsils.
  • Sinusitis: Targets the sinuses around the nose.
  • Rhinitis: Occurs in the nasal cavity.

Causes of Upper Respiratory Infections

Both viruses and bacteria can cause upper respiratory infections. They enter the airway through the mouth or nose and cause an infection after incubation. 

The viruses that cause URIs are:

  • Rhinovirus
  • Adenovirus
  • Coxsackievirus
  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • Human metapneumovirus
  • Parainfluenza virus
  • Respiratory syncytial virus
  • Thinovirus 

Bacterial URIs are caused by:

  • Chlamydia pneumoniae
  • Corynebacterium diphtheriae
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae
  • Group A beta-hemolytic streptococci
  • Group C beta-hemolytic streptococci
  • Pertussis 

Are Upper Respiratory Infections Contagious?

Upper respiratory infections are highly contagious and can be easily passed on from an infected person through air-borne respiratory droplets or physical contact, especially through hands. You can be infected with the URI-causing virus or bacteria through:

  • When an infected person near you sneezes or coughs without covering their nose and mouth, they release germ-filled droplets into the surrounding area, which you may inhale.
  • When the infected person sneezes or coughs into their hands and then touches your hand, you can get the infection when you touch your mouth, nose, or eyes with your contaminated hands.

How Can You Prevent Upper Respiratory Infections?

Children more often suffer from an upper respiratory infection due to its highly contagious nature. You can keep them and yourself safe by practicing good hygiene and lifestyle habits such as:

  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Use a tissue when you sneeze or cough.
  • If you cough or sneeze into your hands, remember to wash them.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids.
  • Ensure you get enough sleep and rest.
  • Avoid being close to people who are sick.
  • Schedule regular check-ups and get necessary immunizations.

Diagnosis of Upper Respiratory Infections

Your physician may perform a physical examination based on your symptoms to diagnose an upper respiratory infection. They may:

  • Check your nose, throat, and ears to detect signs of infection
  • Examine your breathing by listening to your chest

If they feel that your symptoms are due to a more severe infection, they may recommend:

  • Nasal swab
  • Throat swab
  • Lung X-rays, CT scans, or pulmonary function test

Final Thoughts

Upper respiratory infections are among the most common infections that spread fast and wide, especially among children. However, in most cases, the symptoms are mild and subside without needing medication. You need to get enough rest and take plenty of fluids to feel better. As they are contagious, you can encourage your children to learn good hygiene habits that make them less vulnerable to URIs. 

If the symptoms continue after a fortnight or worsGet Fast Relief for Upper Respiratory Infections at Metro Urgent Care center at the earliest.

Get Fast Relief for Upper Respiratory Infections at Metro Urgent Care

Are you experiencing symptoms of an upper respiratory infection and seeking quick relief? If yes, then you should visit Metro Urgent Care in Chicago, IL. We offer fast and effective care for upper respiratory infections in Chicago, IL.. Our specialists are always ready to provide immediate attention and assistance to your needs. Contact us today to learn more about our services and get the relief you need.

Source: National Library of Medicine

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