The upper respiratory tract is made up of the major parts of the respiratory system and includes the nasal cavity, mouth, pharynx (throat), and larynx (voice box). Like many other parts of the body, the structures that make up the upper respiratory tract are lined with a mucous membrane which traps particles inhaled from the environment in order to prevent infection. As a result, the air that reaches the lungs is clean and free of any potential contaminants. Even with this effective system in place, infection is still possible. An acute upper respiratory infection is contagious and occurs when bacteria or a virus enters the system. The most common type of acute upper respiratory infection is the common cold, but other types include pharyngitis, sinusitis, epiglottitis, and tracheobronchitis.

Because an acute upper respiratory infection is highly contagious, everyone is at risk of developing one. However, those with weakened immune systems, the elderly, young children and those who have been in direct contact with someone who already has a respiratory infection and may have sneezed or coughed in their direction is at an increased risk of becoming sick.


The symptoms of an acute respiratory infection can vary from person to person, but most commonly include a runny nose, nasal congestion, coughing (including a productive cough), and sneezing. Additional symptoms may include pain upon swallowing, fever, headache, fatigue, and wheezing.

Diagnosis and Upper Respiratory Infection Treatment
For most people, an acute upper respiratory infection is an annoying illness that will go away on its own. Many people have a good idea of what they have and take care of themselves at home. However, if you are unsure if you have an upper respiratory infection or if you feel you may be developing more serious complications, it is a good idea to call a doctor right away. Most treatments are aimed at relieving symptoms rather than their underlying cause. Depending on your symptoms, you may find relief with the use of a cough suppressant, nasal decongestant, or analgesics to reduce fever, aches, and pains. Inhaling steam, using a humidifier, or gargling salt water may also offer some relief.
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