What is acute respiratory infection?
Acute respiratory infection is an infection that may interfere with normal breathing. It can affect just your upper respiratory system, which starts at your sinuses and ends at your vocal chords, or just your lower respiratory system, which starts at your vocal chords and ends at your lungs.
This infection is particularly dangerous for children, older adults, and people with immune system disorders.
The symptoms you experience will be different if it’s a lower or upper respiratory infection. Symptoms can include:
- congestion, either in the nasal sinuses or lungs
- runny nose
- sore throat
- body aches
Call your doctor if you experience:
- a fever over 103˚F (39˚C) and chills
- difficulty breathing
- loss of consciousness
There are several different causes of acute respiratory infection.
Causes of upper respiratory infection:
Causes of lower respiratory infection:
It’s almost impossible to avoid viruses and bacteria, but certain risk factors increase your chances of developing acute respiratory infection.
The immune systems of children and older adults are more prone to being affected by viruses.
Children are especially at risk because of their constant contact with other kids who could be virus carriers. Children often don’t wash their hands regularly. They are also more likely to rub their eyes and put their fingers in their mouths, resulting in the spread of viruses.
People with heart disease or other lung problems are more likely to contract an acute respiratory infection. Anyone whose immune system might be weakened by another disease is at risk. Smokers also are at high risk and have more trouble recovering.
In a respiratory exam, the doctor focuses on your breathing. They will check for fluid and inflammation in the lungs by listening for abnormal sounds in your lungs when you breathe. The doctor may peer into your nose and ears, and check your throat.
If your doctor believes the infection is in the lower respiratory tract, an X-ray or CT scan may be necessary to check the condition of the lungs.
Lung function tests have been useful as diagnostic tools. Pulse oximetry, also known as pulse ox, can check how much oxygen gets into the lungs. A doctor may also take a swab from your nose or mouth, or ask you to cough up a sample of sputum (material coughed up from the lungs) to check for the type of virus or bacteria causing the disease.
With many viruses, there are no known treatments. Your doctor may prescribe medications to manage your symptoms while monitoring your condition. If your doctor suspects a bacterial infection, they may prescribe antibiotics.
Complications of acute respiratory infection are extremely serious and can result in permanent damage and even death. They include:
- respiratory arrest, which occurs when the lungs stop functioning
- respiratory failure, a rise in CO2 in your blood caused by your lungs not functioning correctly
- congestive heart failure
Most causes of an acute respiratory infection aren’t treatable. Therefore, prevention is the best method to ward off harmful respiratory infections.
Getting the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) and pertussis vaccine will substantially lower your risk of getting a respiratory infection. You may also benefit from influenza vaccination and pneumovax. Talk to your doctor about getting these.
Practice good hygiene:
- Wash your hands frequently, especially after you’ve been in a public place.
- Always sneeze into the arm of your shirt or in a tissue. Although this may not ease your own symptoms, it will prevent you from spreading infectious diseases.
- Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes and mouth, to prevent introducing germs into your system.
You should also avoid smoking and make sure you include plenty of vitamins in your diet, such as vitamin C, which helps boost your immune system. Vitamin C is maintained in immune cells, and a deficiency has been linked to higher susceptibility to infection. While research is unclear if Vitamin C can prevent an acute respiratory infection, there is evidence that it can shorten the length of time and or severity of some infections.