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Upper Respiratory Infection

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

An upper respiratory infection is also called a cold. It can affect your nose, throat, ears, and sinuses. Cold symptoms are usually worst for the first 3 to 5 days. Most people get better in 7 to 14 days. You may continue to cough for 2 to 3 weeks. Colds are caused by viruses and do not get better with antibiotics.

DISCHARGE INSTRUCTIONS:

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You have chest pain or trouble breathing.

Return to the emergency department if:

  • You have a fever over 102ºF (39ºC).

Call your doctor if:

  • You have a low fever.
  • 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 are 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, or bloody mucus.
  • You have a bad earache.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Medicines:

You may need any of the following:

  • Decongestants help reduce nasal congestion and help you breathe more easily. If you take decongestant pills, they may make you feel restless or cause problems with your sleep. Do not use decongestant sprays for more than a few days.
  • Cough suppressants help reduce coughing. Ask your healthcare provider which type of cough medicine is best for you.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly. Do not use more than 4 grams (4,000 milligrams) total of acetaminophen in one day.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him or her if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Self-care:

  • Rest as much as possible. Slowly start to do more each day.
  • Drink more liquids as directed. Liquids will help thin and loosen mucus so you can cough it up. Liquids will also help prevent dehydration. Liquids that help prevent dehydration include water, fruit juice, and broth. Do not drink liquids that contain caffeine. Caffeine can increase your risk for dehydration. Ask your healthcare provider how much liquid to drink each day.
  • Soothe a sore throat. Gargle with warm salt water. Make salt water by dissolving ¼ teaspoon salt in 1 cup warm water. You may also suck on hard candy or throat lozenges. You may use a sore throat spray.
  • Use a humidifier or vaporizer. Use a cool mist humidifier or a vaporizer to increase air moisture in your home. This may make it easier for you to breathe and help decrease your cough.
  • Use saline nasal drops as directed. These help relieve congestion.
  • Apply petroleum-based jelly around the outside of your nostrils. This can decrease irritation from blowing your nose.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can make your symptoms worse. They can also cause infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.

Prevent a cold:

  • Wash your hands often. Use soap and water every time you wash your hands. Rub your soapy hands together, lacing your fingers. Use the fingers of one hand to scrub under the nails of the other hand. Wash for at least 20 seconds. Rinse with warm, running water for several seconds. Then dry your hands. Use germ-killing gel if soap and water are not available. Do not touch your eyes or mouth without washing your hands first.
    Handwashing
  • Cover a sneeze or cough. Use a tissue that covers your mouth and nose. Put the used tissue in the trash right away. Use the bend of your arm if a tissue is not available. Wash your hands well with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer. Do not stand close to anyone who is sneezing or coughing.
  • Try to stay away from others while you are sick. This is especially important during the first 2 to 3 days when the virus is more easily spread. Wait until a fever, cough, or other symptoms are gone before you return to work or other regular activities.
  • Do not share items while you are sick. This includes food, drinks, eating utensils, and dishes.

Follow up with your doctor as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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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.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.