Just about everyone at some point in their life contracts an upper respiratory infection. In the medical profession these are referred to as URI’s. They start at the beginning of the respiratory system, which is in the back of the nose. And it is through the nose that most pollutants and airborne toxins enter our bodies. Although a URI can occur at any time of the year, they are more prevalent in the fall and winter in temperate climates. They never constitute a medical crisis as they will run their course and disappear without medical intervention. However they are costly to society as they are responsible for forty percent of the absenteeism in the workforce and millions of lost school days.
Most URI’s are caused by viruses. Some are the result of bacteria and others may be a combination of the two. It is possible for people to build up a natural immunity against viruses through contact with them. So if a URI is caused by a virus that has invaded your system before you will no doubt have a milder case and recover faster. But if you are exposed to a new virus, your URI may last longer. The strength of your immune system is another factor that determines the severity of your illness and also controls whether you are infected to begin with.
In the past, URI’s were often mistaken for bacterial infections and treated with antibiotics. This was a serious error on the part of the medical profession for two reasons. First, viral infections do not respond to antibiotics. Secondly, this helped bacteria build up a resistance to antibiotics thereby compromising their effectiveness in situations where they were really needed.
There is actually no cure for a URI. The very best treatment is rest and hydration. Extra rest helps strengthen your immune system so it can effectively fight off the virus. Keeping well hydrated by ingesting liquids thins out the mucous in the lungs and sinuses easing the discomfort of congestion. You can use over-the-counter medications but they will not cure the infection. They will only make the symptoms easier to bear. Since it is normal to have a low fever, Tylenol or any acetaminophen will reduce it and relieve the general felling of malaise. Since a URI may involve congestion in the sinuses and lungs, a sore throat and ear pain or all of these, you will need something to relieve each symptom that you have. There are various other medications to soothe sore throats coughs, and congestion.
However if your fever is higher than 102 degrees, does not go away, or does go away but then returns with new symptoms, you need to see a doctor. A URI should run its course in seven to fourteen days but if it lasts longer, you also need to consult your doctor. Occasionally a viral infection will cause a secondary bacterial infection. In this case you need to be treated with antibiotics and need to see your physician. URI’s are highly contagious and difficult to prevent. Avoiding others who are sick and frequent hand washing can help as can strengthening the immune system through diet, exercise and proper rest.