Respiratory tract infection

Respiratory Tract Infection

Description, Causes and Risk Factors:

Abbreviation: RTI.

Respiratory tract infections are very common. They are believed to be one of the main reasons why people visit their GP or pharmacist.

A respiratory infection is an infection that affects any area within the respiratory system including the nose, throat, larynx, trachea, bronchus and lungs. Upper respiratory infections are extremely common and predominately generate symptoms in the nose and throat. However, lower respiratory tract infections can also occur, especially in young children. These infections typically produce symptoms in the windpipe, airways, and lungs.

In the United States, this represents approximately one billion acute upper respiratory illnesses annually. Recent studies show that up to 98% of all cases are viral in nature.

The majority of respiratory infections are caused by viruses. The common cold and influenza are two of the most frequently experienced types of respiratory infections.

Most upper respiratory tract infections are caused by viruses. There are more than two hundred different viruses that can cause a respiratory tract infection. However, the most common viruses belong to one of two groups.


  • Coronaviruses.

Respiratory tract infections are more common during the winter. This is possibly due to the fact that during the winter months people are more likely to stay inside and in close contact with each other.

Children tend to get more upper respiratory tract infections than adults. This is because they have not yet built up immunity to the many viruses that can cause colds.

Factors like the high birthrate, babies born with low birth weight compromising immunity and undernourishment or malnutrition, poverty and overcrowding have pushed the incidence of respiratory tract infection higher


Infections generate inflammation and mucus production in the respiratory tract. This can prompt a wide array of symptoms which may include:

    Sore throat.

  • Headache.

  • Runny nose.

  • Watery eyes.

  • Sneezing.

  • Cough.

  • Chills.

  • Fever.

  • Muscle pain.

  • Insomnia.

  • Congestion.

  • Fatigue.

  • Wheezing.

  • Ear pain.

  • Loss of appetite.

  • General feeling of discomfort or malaise.


Common respiratory infections generally do not require a doctor's visit. Most doctors and adults can recognize the symptoms of a respiratory infection without the use of medical tests or procedures. However, if you or your child has a fever that does not subside after a few days or is having difficulty breathing or drinking, you should contact your doctor.

For patients experiencing wheezing, stridor, lung congestion or other breathing difficulties, your doctor may conduct x-rays of the neck or chest to help detect abnormalities and diagnose your condition.

Rapid diagnostic tests, viral cultures and, in rare cases, blood tests, may also be conducted to assist in the diagnosing process and help rule out more serious conditions.


Determine the type of infection. It's essential to determine the type of infection in order to get the most effective treatment. Infections may be caused by bacteria or a virus and may require different treatment. Get a chest x-ray, which will help determine if there is fluid in the lungs and if pneumonia is present. A sputum culture may also be done, which can help determine if bacteria is growing in the mucus.

Respiratory tract infections in patients at risk of poor outcomes are unlikely to resolve without treatment, or to tolerate treatment failure well. Treatment with an appropriate antimicrobial agent significantly decreases the bacterial burden, and may reduce the risk of the patient progressing to a more severe infection. When making treatment choices, it is important for practitioners to consider the most commonly encountered pathogens as well as the potential for resistance to ensure that the appropriate antimicrobial is prescribed.

Get oxygen therapy, if needed. Certain respiratory tract infections may decrease an individual's oxygen level in the blood. If this occurs, it can cause shortness of breath, confusion, fatigue and possibly loss of consciousness. Supplemental oxygen can be administered through a mask or nasal cannula. Oxygen can be given both in the hospital and prescribed for home use.

Disclaimer: The above information is just informative purpose. The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition.

DISCLAIMER: This information should not substitute for seeking responsible, professional medical care.


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