How can you treat an upper respiratory infection?

Upper respiratory infection or URI is a generic term for an acute infection of the nose, mouth, throat, sinuses, larynx and parynx, which make up the upper respiratory system. URIs include sinusitis, tonsillitis, laryngitis and the common cold. Although influenza (the flu) involves the upper respiratory system, it is not considered among the group of illnesses referred to by the term "upper respiratory infection." Most URIs are viral, which means that antibiotic medications will not resolve them.

Upper respiratory infections are more common in the winter because people tend to stay indoors and share the same recirculated air (and germs). Symptoms of URIs vary depending on the type of infection, but they often include nasal congestion, sneezing, sore throat and fever.


The first thing any doctor will tell you if you have a URI is to get plenty of rest. Although this may not actually shorten your illness, it will help you cope better. You should increase your fluid intake, which will thin the mucous of your respiratory system and help expel it.

There are many over-the-counter medications you can take in different combinations, depending on the symptoms that bother you the most. Antihistamines may help relieve your nasal symptoms, but the first dose is generally more effective than later doses, and when you discontinue use you may actually suffer from a rebound reaction called rhinitis medicamentosa. Antitussives (cough suppressants) and expectorants (medications that help you cough up mucous) may be recommended;anti-inflammatory drugs may reduce fever, but these can also cause gastrointestinal irritation.

Topical steroids may help your nasal symptoms. Menthol and camphor may be used, and steam inhalation and warm saline gargles have been known to help relieve throat symptoms. Vitamin C, zinc salts and Echinacea are popular natural remedies that have not yet been confirmed as helpful to URIs. Raising the head of your bed may help reduce nighttime coughing. Try to stay away from smoke while you are sick, since it can irritate your nose and throat.