Your Guide to Respiratory Infections

November 20, 2023

Respiratory Infection Prevention and Treatment

It’s December. The weather’s cold, and that means one thing: It’s cold and flu season. Many respiratory viruses thrive when the weather is cold.

While everyone’s goal is to avoid getting sick, it’s impossible to completely eliminate the risk of getting infected with a respiratory virus.

If you find yourself feeling unwell this winter, read on to see how to take care of yourself at home, when to contact a medical professional, and what additional treatment options are available.

What Causes Respiratory Infections?

Respiratory infections can affect any body parts involved in breathing, including the mouth, throat and lungs. Most of these infections are caused by viruses and they include some of the most common conditions in the world. But they can also be more serious.

Examples of respiratory infections are:

  • Cold
  • Flu
  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchitis
  • Laryngitis
  • COVID-19

Preventing Respiratory Infections

Prevention is the best form of treatment, and you can prevent a respiratory infection by practicing good hygiene. The viruses that cause respiratory infections are usually transmitted through tiny droplets, so it’s important to wash your hands with sanitizer or soap and water as much as possible. Cleaning surfaces regularly can also help, as can wearing a mask.

You should also avoid sharing personal items with others. That includes drinks, toothbrushes, towels, and even hair combs and blankets. If you know someone who recently had an infection (or they’re showing symptoms), do your best to keep your distance until they recover.

Treatment Options for Respiratory Infections

Even if you practice perfect hygiene, there’s always a chance you may get sick. Here’s what you should do if you think you’ve come down with a respiratory infection:

At-Home Treatment

Most mild respiratory infections can be treated with an at-home care routine. Some of the steps you should take when you’re sick include:

  • Get plenty of rest: Sleep is how your immune system attacks viruses when you’re sick. Resting when you feel under the weather – napping, sleeping longer, taking time off from work – can give your body the energy it needs to recover.
  • Drink lots of fluids: Your body uses more fluids than usual when fighting off an illness, so it’s important you’re replenishing by drinking plenty of water. The amount you should drink will depend on many factors, but aim for at least eight cups per day.
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers: Fever, sore throat and muscle aches aren’t pleasant. While your body works to fight off the infection, an over-the-counter pain reliever can help you manage your symptoms.

Visiting Your Doctor

You don’t always have to go to the doctor if you have a respiratory infection. But if you have any of the following symptoms, you should contact a medical professional:

  • Fever over 102 degrees for more than three days
  • Feeling worse instead of better, especially after 10 days
  • Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Feeling pain or pressure in your chest
  • Have a sore throat for more than a week
  • Having a pulse oximeter reading less than 92%
  • Having a positive home test for COVID-19

Recovering From a Respiratory Infection

If your treatment plan is working, you should start to see your symptoms improve after a few days. While individual recovery times will vary, most respiratory infections pass within a few weeks.