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Jennifer Nelson

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About Author — Jennifer is a freelance writer in the Midwest who writes about a variety of topics but especially enjoys educating people about their health and the health of their pets.

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Antibiotics for Upper Respiratory Infection

With cough and cold season starting to gear up, you may be wondering if you should take antibiotics for an upper respiratory infection. Since upper respiratory infections are typically caused by viruses, doctors don’t usually prescribe antibiotics for upper respiratory infection.

What are the symptoms of an upper respiratory infection? What is the treatment if it isn’t antibiotics? Here’s a quick look at what you should know about upper respiratory infections.

What is an upper respiratory infection?

The upper respiratory tract includes the nose, throat, pharynx, larynx, and bronchi. An infection of any of these structures is referred to as an upper respiratory infection.

Upper respiratory infections are typically caused by viruses, although they can also be caused by bacteria.

Upper respiratory infection symptoms

Upper respiratory infection symptoms may vary slightly depending on the severity and where the infection is located but may include:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing up phlegm
  • Body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Scratchy or sore throat
  • Headache
  • Wheezing
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Inability to smell
  • Foul breath
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sinus pain
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Complication of upper respiratory infection

Upper respiratory infections can lead to serious complications, including:

  • Secondary bacterial infection (including pneumonia)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tonsil abscesses
  • Spread of infection to the brain (meningitis)
  • Rheumatic fever from strep throat
  • Ear infections
  • Spread of infection to the heart (pericarditis, myocarditis)
  • Worsening of lung problems like asthma or COPD
  • Fractured ribs and pulled muscles from violent coughing fits

Upper respiratory infection risk factors

While anybody can develop an upper respiratory infection, people more at risk include those who:

  • Have a compromised immune system
  • Work or live with children
  • Live in a group setting like a nursing home or dormitory
  • Smoke
  • Work or live in healthcare facilities
  • Come in contact with somebody who is infected
  • Have anatomical abnormalities like facial trauma, upper airway trauma, or nasal polyps

Upper respiratory infection treatment

Upper respiratory infections can usually be treated at home. Upper respiratory infection treatment includes:

  • Rest
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Avoiding cold, dry air
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin) to reduce pain and bring down a fever
  • Antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) can reduce nasal congestion
  • Cough medicine (may be over the counter or prescription)
  • Honey can reduce a cough, especially when added to tea
  • Oral or nasal decongestants reduce nasal congestion
  • Steroids like dexamethasone (Decadron) and prednisone may reduce inflammation in airways
  • Inhale steam or use a humidifier
  • Gargle salt water
  • Saline nasal rinse

Antibiotics for upper respiratory infection

Unless a doctor confirms that your upper respiratory infection is caused by a bacteria, doctors don’t prescribe antibiotics for upper respiratory infection. Most upper respiratory infections are caused by viruses which are not affected by antibiotics.

Think you may be experiencing symptoms of an upper respiratory infection? Book an appointment with a PlushCare physician and get a prescription today.