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Respiratory Infections

Respiratory Infections

Richard Sheldon (Medical Advisor to the CA State Respiratory Care Board) gives expert video advice on: How can I prevent an upper respiratory infection?; What are the symptoms of a sinus infection? and more...

What is an "upper respiratory infection" or "URI"?

A respiratory infection involves the upper portion of the respiratory tract, is usually caused by a virus. It causes sneezing and coughing and congestion, and may cause some fever, a sort of a flu like syndrome. And that's usually what people usual refer to as "the flu". It may also involve your ears getting clogged up. It doesn't usually involve the lungs. A respiratory tract infection involving the upper lobes, or the upper airways, are usually confined then to the nose, upper nasal passages. A sore throat may be involved in that.

How do upper respiratory infections affect my pulmonary health?

Respiratory infections, for most people who don't have underlying lung disease, don't do much to affect it in the long run. But if you have asthma or if you have other underlying lung disease, these minor infections may kick you in, for instance if you are an asthmatic, may kick you into a full blown asthma attack. And that becomes a very, very difficult problem for you as it relates to your upper and lower respiratory tract infections.

How are upper respiratory infections commonly treated?

We have a saying in medicine that says for these kind of infections that: "If you treat it, it will go away in a week. If you leave it alone, it will go away in seven days." Usually it's symptomatic, really. With decongestants, you may want to take some anti-inflammatories to help with some muscle aches and pains. Lots of fluids, bed rest, and usually it's gone in a week to 10 days.

What is a sinus infection?

A sinus infection is an infection of the sinuses, and they can be very painful. They can cause a considerable amount of disability, and will be very painful. Your head, and your teeth may hurt. If it's in the maxillary sinuses, your upper teeth may hurt from that. You'll have a lot of, what they say in Spanish, "catara," a lot of discharge from the nose, and the running of high fevers. Many times, they will leave behind a continuing chronic infected state that requires some surgery to help open up the sinuses and drain them. So they can be very debilitating.

What are the symptoms of a sinus infection?

The most common symptoms of a sinus infection are nasal discharge, pain, high fever, congestion, runny eyes at times, tearing, and just overall debility. They can be very uncomfortable.

How are sinus infections treated?

If they're viral, it's hard to treat them. You treat them with decongestants, bed rest and fluids, like you would with other upper respiratory tract infections caused by viruses. But frequently, a viral infection to a sinus will open it up and sort of damage it a bit, and then bacterial infections will come in as a secondary invader. I explain it to patients sometimes as like a stealth bug that will fly in underneath the radar and just nail you. In that situation, if it's bacterial, then it has to be treated with antibiotics. The antibiotics sometimes that we use, are better for sinusitis if they're certain types of antibiotics rather than just the overarching broad spectrum antibiotics.