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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. 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
  • Fatigue
  • Chills and fever
  • Headache, body aches, or sore muscles

How is a cold treated?

There is no cure for the common cold. Colds are caused by viruses and do not get better with antibiotics. Most people get better in 7 to 14 days. You may continue to cough for 2 to 3 weeks. The following may help decrease your symptoms:

  • Decongestants help reduce nasal congestion and help you breathe more easily. 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.
  • 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. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.

How can I manage my cold?

  • 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.
  • Gargle with warm salt water to help your sore throat feel better. Make salt water by adding ¼ teaspoon salt to 1 cup warm water. Throat lozenges or spray may also help to relieve a sore throat.
  • Use saline nasal drops to help relieve your congestion.
  • Drink liquids as directed. Liquids help keep your air passages moist and help you cough up mucus. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
  • Rest as much as possible. Slowly start to do more each day.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have severe headaches, a stiff neck, or eye pain when you look at bright light.
  • You have chest pain or trouble breathing.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

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

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.

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