What is cold (upper respiratory infection)?

Cold (Upper Respiratory Infection)

Upper respiratory infection (URI) in teens: Overview

An upper respiratory infection, also called a URI, is an infection of the nose, sinuses, or throat. Viruses or bacteria can cause URIs. Colds, the flu, and sinusitis are examples of URIs. These infections are spread by coughs, sneezes, and close contact.

You may need antibiotics to treat bacterial infections. Antibiotics do not help viral infections. But you can treat most infections with home care. This may include drinking lots of fluids and taking over-the-counter pain medicine. You will probably feel better in 4 to 10 days.

Upper respiratory infection (URI)

An upper respiratory infection (URI) is an infection of the nose, sinuses, or throat. Examples of URIs include colds, influenza (flu), and sinusitis. Common symptoms are a runny or stuffy nose and a cough.

Most URIs can be treated with home care. This may include drinking lots of fluids and taking over-the-counter pain medicine. Most people feel better in 4 to 10 days.

If a doctor suspects that a URI is caused by bacteria, antibiotics are prescribed. But almost all URIs are caused by viruses. Antibiotics don't kill viruses, so they won't help cure a viral infection.

What are the symptoms of an upper respiratory infection (URI)?

Cold symptoms include a runny nose, sneezing, red eyes, a sore throat, a cough, headaches, and body aches. Flu symptoms are worse and come on faster. They include fatigue, fever, body aches, headaches, a dry cough, and a sore throat. If symptoms last more than 2 weeks, you may have sinusitis or allergies.

How are upper respiratory infections (URIs) treated?

Most people can treat their symptoms with home care, such as resting and taking medicine to lower their fever. For some URIs, your doctor may prescribe medicine that can make the symptoms milder. People who have severe symptoms or get pneumonia need treatment in the hospital.

How to Wear a Mask to Help Prevent Respiratory Infections

How are upper respiratory infections (URIs) diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and do a physical exam. This may give the doctor enough information to know if you have a cold, the flu, or another illness. In some cases, the doctor may test a sample from your nose, throat, or lungs to find out what's causing your illness.

How can you care for your child age 0 to 3 months who has an upper respiratory infection (cold)?

  • If your baby has problems breathing or eating because of a stuffy nose, put a few saline (saltwater) nasal drops in one nostril. Using a soft rubber suction bulb, squeeze air out of the bulb, and gently place the tip inside the baby's nose. Relax your hand to suck the mucus from the nose. Repeat in the other nostril.
  • Place a cool-mist humidifier near your baby. This may help your child breathe. Follow the directions for cleaning the machine.
  • Keep your baby away from smoke. Do not smoke or let anyone else smoke around your baby or in your house.
  • Wash your hands and your baby's hands regularly so that you don't spread the infection.
  • Do not give medicines to babies younger than 3 months old.

What are colds?

Colds are the most common infection of the nose, sinuses, or throat (upper respiratory infection). Colds are caused by viruses. They're spread by coughs, sneezes, and close contact. You can catch a cold at any time of year, but they're more common in late winter and early spring. There's no cure for colds.

Upper respiratory infection (URI) in teens: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You have rapid swelling of the throat or tongue.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have a fever with a stiff neck or a severe headache.
  • You have signs of needing more fluids. You have sunken eyes, a dry mouth, and you pass only a little urine.
  • You cannot keep down fluids or medicine.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have a deep cough and a lot of mucus.
  • You are too tired to eat or drink.
  • You have a new symptom, such as a sore throat, an earache, or a rash.
  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.