Upper respiratory infection

What is an upper respiratory infection?


What are the symptoms of upper respiratory infections?

Upper respiratory infections can last from 3 to 14 days, though most clear up within 7 to 10 days. URIs occur most frequently during the fall and winter months; however, it is not uncommon to catch one during spring or summer as well. Symptoms commonly include the following:

  • Upper respiratory congestion
  • Nasal discharge
  • Low-grade fever
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Pain while swallowing
  • Pressure in the face around the sinus area
  • Wheezing


How are upper respiratory infections prevented?

Upper respiratory infections are highly contagious and can be spread by close contact with an infected person or by coughing and sneezing. Healthy hand hygiene through regular handwashing with soap and warm water is one of the most effective ways to prevent infections and the spread of germs. Respiratory infections can also be prevented by:

  • Avoiding contact with anyone who has an upper respiratory infection;
  • Regularly wiping down commonly touched surfaces, like doorknobs, with disinfectant wipes;
  • Covering your mouth with a tissue or the inside of your elbow when coughing or sneezing; and
  • Not smoking or vaping.

For more tips on preventing the common cold, see our blog here.


Most upper respiratory infections are caused by viruses and clear up on their own in 7 to 10 days. Unfortunately, antibiotics are not effective for viral URIs. The symptoms, however, can be treated with over-the-counter medications, though it’s best to use medications sparingly to avoid side effects. In particular, over-the-counter medications do not improve symptoms in children under 6 years of age, so should not be given to them for upper respiratory infections. It is also important to stay hydrated and use a vaporizer to help clear breathing passages.

If symptoms do not clear up on their own after a week or worsen, you should see a physician. In some cases, an upper respiratory infection can progress to a bacterial infection of the sinuses, ear(s), or lungs. If your physician suspects your viral upper respiratory infection has progressed to a bacterial infection, he or she may order additional testing or recommend treatment with antibiotics.

If you wish to see a physician, you can come into any Patient First center from 8am to 8pm  any day of the week - no appointment needed.