The respiratory tract starts from the nose, and goes through the windpipe to end in the air sacs of the lungs. This provides a route for the delivering oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide from the blood.
The whole tract is lined with mucus-producing cells and hair in the nose, to protect from the inhaled organisms (viruses, bacteria, fungi) that may cause diseases.
Any infections of the nose, throat and voice box in the windpipe are called upper respiratory tract infections (URTI); these infections mostly include the common viral infections and allergies, such as cold, flu, rhinitis, and hay fever.
Infections below the voice box or larynx are referred to as lower respiratory tract infections (LRTI) and include bronchitis, bronchiolitis, and pneumonia. These can be bacterial and are more serious than URTIs.
Infections are usually caught when we inhale the bacteria or virus, spread by an infected person’s sneeze or cough. Additionally, touching a contaminated surface and then touching your face or mouth with the same hand can also cause illnesses.
A runny or dry nose, cough, bodyaches, and fever usually accompany milder infections. Moderate to severe infections and LRTI tend to have cough with colored sputum, chest pains, fever, body aches, shortness of breath, whistling sounds from the chest, and bluish coloration of skin and lips.
Doctors diagnose infections based on symptoms and clinical examinations. They may require investigations like x-rays, sputum samples, and blood tests to assess the severity of the infection and the progress of the disease.
A bacterial infection in any part of the tract requires antibiotics for treatment, while a fungal infection, yet rare, needs antifungal medicine for management.
Viral infections are usually fought off by the body’s immune system unless the patient has a weak or compromised immune system, where antivirals are used (see below).
Some remedies benefit the body in fighting against the infections, alongside the medical treatment:
- Acetaminophen or ibuprofen help reduce fever and body aches
- Decongestants and expectorants soften the mucus in the chest, making it easier to cough up
- Lots of fluids and water, such as honey, lemon, and ginger teas help prevent dehydration and break down mucus plugs
- Saltwater gargles, warm water, and liquids like coffee, soups, and broths, soothe the throat and provide comfort to the body
- Rest is important; it allows the body to heal and fight better
- Humidifiers, steam inhalations, and warm baths also help loosen mucus and relax the body
- Stop smoking
- Avoid cough suppressants
- Warm compresses to the forehead help relieve sinus symptoms
- Deep breathing and straw blowing exercises help in the recovery phase
- Some natural healers and immunity boosters include garlic, raw honey, cayenne pepper, tea tree oil, turmeric, and ginger.
People with compromised immunity can have severe infections; such as cancer or transplant patients, smokers, those with respiratory or chronic illnesses, old age, pregnant females, and children, especially less than 2 years of age.
Severe infections require hospital admission, intravenous medications, and respiratory therapy. Signs of the severity of the disease include difficulty in breathing, blood-containing sputum, confusion, neck stiffness, chest pain, seizures, and unstopping vomiting.
Is an upper respiratory infection contagious?
Most upper respiratory infections are caused by self-limited viral infections. Occasionally, bacterial infections can cause upper respiratory infections. Upper respiratory infection is most commonly contagious and can spread from person to person by inhaling respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing. Transmission of respiratory infections can also occur by touching the nose or mouth by hand or by other objects exposed to the virus.
Prevention of Respiratory infections:
Maintain good hygiene, especially hand hygiene, and cover face when sneezing and coughing. Other beneficial efforts include a well-balanced diet, regular sleep, and no smoking.
To lower the risk of serious infections, vaccines are available for people at risk of severe infections.
Pulmonary infection may be mild as a cold or flu or possibly severe as pneumonia or bronchiolitis. Mostly, the immune system tackles the infection effectively, yet sometimes, added medications are required. And it is recommended to seek medical care to avoid worsening of the condition.