Common Conditions

Upper respiratory tract infections

Upper respiratory tract infections, (URTI or URI), are the illnesses caused by an acute infection which involves the upper respiratory tractnosesinusespharynx or larynx. The incidence of acute URTIs in the United States is approximately one billion each year resulting in the most common cause of sick leave from work.

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Diagram to show the upper respiratory tract which is involved in URTI’s

Signs and symptoms

Acute upper respiratory tract infections include rhinosinusitis (common cold), sinusitispharyngitis/tonsillitis and laryngitis. Symptoms of URTI’s commonly include nasal congestioncoughrunning nosesore throatfever, facial pressure and sneezing.

Onset of the symptoms usually begins after 1-3 days after exposure to a microbial pathogen, most commonly a virus. Up to 15% of acute pharyngitis cases may be caused by bacteria.

The duration of the symptoms is typically 7 to 10 days but may persist longer.

Influenza (the flu) is a more systemic illness which can also involve the upper respiratory tract (refer to another article).


Treatment is generally symptomatic.  This includes rest, plenty of fluids, anti-histamines and anti-pyretics.


URTI’s may complicate or exacerbate other lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis or asthma.  In such situations, the underlying lung disease may need to be treated more aggressively.

Acute bacterial sinusitis may also complicate URTI’s.

Pain and pressure of the ear caused by a middle ear infection (Otitis media) and the reddening of the eye caused by Viral Conjunctivitis are often associated with upper respiratory infections.

Alternative Medicines

Vitamin C in high doses was thought to help in the treatment of URTI’s.  However, medical evidence is lacking.

Echinacia is a herbal remedy commonly used in the Western World.  It may help symptomatically, but is not commonly used in medical practise.

Differential Diagnoses (DD)

DD of URTI’s include other causes of sneezing, and runny nose such as allergic rhinitis, an allergic disease of the nose, and influenzae, a viral infection caused by a specific virus.

Other causes of fever, such as Dengue fever, acute bronchitis and pneumonia may be mistaken for an URTI as the symptoms are similar.

[Article Ref: Singapore Respiratory Specialists (SRS)]