Upper Respiratory Tract Infection


An upper respiratory tract infection (URTI),of which the common cold is one,  represents the most common acute illness seen in general practice.

The upper respiratory tract includes sinuses, nasal passages and the throat, which are the entrance to the lungs. URTI involve direct invasion of the mucosa of the upper airways by pathogens and are spread by human to human contact. One example would be touching a hand exposed or inhaling droplets of a person sneezing or coughing.

It may occur through-out the year but tend to be more prevalent during the winter months.

Incubation period and causes

Most URTI’s are viral in origin and many different viruses can cause the common cold.

Symptoms usually start 2-3 days after exposure and can last 3 – 14 days. If the symptoms last for more that 2 weeks, a bacterial illness should be considered for which specific treatments are necessary.


Nasal discharge and/or congestion


Soar throat

Cough (often precipitated by post nasal drip)

Headache (especially with Influenza)

Fever (especially with Influenza)

Fatigue and malaise – can last for weeks

Pain on moving your eyes might be present with certain viruses


The majority of cases can be treated with supportive and symptomatic treatment at home. If symptoms last for more than 2 weeks or the fever does not respond to simple treatment mentioned below, a doctor should be consulted.

Recommended treatment

  1. Adequate fluid intake : At least 8 glasses ( 250ml) of water/juice per day
  2. Bed rest
  3. Symptomatic treatment
  4. Decongestant for the relieve of nasal symptoms
  5. Antipyretics for the relieve of fever
  6. Analgesia for pain relief

Probiotic: Antibiotic alters our normal intestinal flora which affects digestion, a probiotic and yogurt will help to prevent that.

Antitussive : Cough suppressor

1-2 tsp. of buckwheat honey have been proven to be just as effective.

Antibiotic might be necessary if the symptoms persist for more that 2 weeks or if there are other early evidence of a bacterial illness

Other General Measures

  • Wash you hands regularly to avoid infecting others
  • Avoid alcohol and stop smoking.
  • Air travel: You may experience increased discomfort during a flight due to the changes in atmospheric pressure. If possible avoid flying in the first few days of your illness.
  • Swimming in chlorinated water might aggravate irritable mucosa.
  • Warm moist air may help irritated sinuses. Try taking long showers or open the hot water while sitting in the bathroom inhaling the steam.
  • Drinking hot drinks with lemon and honey may also provide symptomatic relief
  • Avoid extreme temperatures, it will irritate you mucosa even more.
  • Warm compress over the forehead and nose will help with congestion.
  • Sleeping semi upright may provide relief because lying flat decreases the clearing mechanisms of you airways.


Please be aware that over the counter medication often contains a combination of ingredients. Please ensure that there is no interaction and that you are not putting yourself at risk of overdose, especially if you buy them one by one. Ask your pharmacist.

If you need to see a doctor for a non resolving illness, keep all packaging and take it with you to your doctor’s appointment so that he/she can see exactly what you have been taking.

Vaccine is available for flu viruses and can be considered, especially for people with a general weak immunity and people older than 50 years of age.

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The Contributor

Shenzhen resident since 2004, Jonathan has enjoyed careers in Art, Nursing, Clinic mangement. Comes from New York, and is on a mission to bring bagels to Shenzhen.

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