Upper Respiratory Infection

What is an upper respiratory infection?

An upper respiratory infection is also called a common cold. It can affect your nose, throat, ears, and sinuses.

What causes a cold?

The common cold is caused by a virus. There are many different cold viruses and each is contagious. This means it can be easily spread to another person when the sick person coughs or sneezes. It can also be spread if you touch something that a person with a cold has touched. You are more likely to get a cold in the winter and if you are stressed or tired. Your risk of getting a cold may be increased if you smoke cigarettes or have allergies, such as hay fever.

What are the signs and symptoms of a cold?

Cold symptoms are usually worst for the first 3 to 5 days. You may have any of the following:

  • Runny or stuffy nose

  • Sneezing and coughing

  • Sore throat or hoarseness

  • Red, watery, and sore eyes

  • Tiredness or restlessness

  • Chills and fever

  • Headache, body aches, or sore muscles

How is a cold treated?

There is no cure for the common cold. Most people get better in 7 to 14 days. You may continue to cough for 2 to 3 weeks.

  • Self-care: Keep warm and get plenty of rest. Use a cool mist humidifier to help you breathe easier. Drink 8 to 10 cups of hot or cold liquids each day and eat healthy foods.

  • Medicines: Do not take any medicines without talking to your caregiver. The following may help reduce the symptoms of your cold:

    • Decongestants: These can help reduce nasal congestion and help with breathing. If you take decongestant pills, they may make you feel restless or not able to sleep. Do not use decongestant sprays for more than a few days. If overused they can cause worse inflammation when they are stopped.

    • Cough suppressants: These help reduce coughing. Ask your caregiver which type of cough medicine is best for you. Some cough suppressants require a prescription, others do not.

    • Ibuprofen and acetaminophen: These medicines decrease pain and lower a fever. They are available without a doctor's order. Ask your caregiver which medicine is right for you. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. These medicines can cause stomach bleeding if not taken correctly. Ibuprofen can cause kidney damage. Do not take ibuprofen if you have kidney disease, an ulcer, or allergies to aspirin. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage. Do not drink alcohol if you take acetaminophen. You may use aspirin or medicines that have aspirin in them only if you are older than 18 years old.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • Your sore throat gets worse or you see white or yellow spots in your throat.

  • Your symptoms get worse after 3 to 5 days or your cold is not better in 14 days.

  • You have a rash anywhere on your skin.

  • You have large, tender lumps in your neck.

  • You have thick, green or yellow drainage from your nose.

  • You cough up thick yellow, green, gray, or bloody mucus.

  • You have vomiting for more than 24 hours and cannot keep fluids down.

  • You have a bad earache.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have bad headaches or a stiff neck, or bright light hurts your eyes.

  • You have chest pain or trouble breathing.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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