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Upper Respiratory Tract Infection

The upper respiratory tract includes the sinuses, nasal passages, pharynx, and larynx, which serve as gateways to the trachea, bronchi, and pulmonary alveolar spaces. Rhinitis, pharyngitis, sinusitis, epiglottitis, laryngitis, and tracheitis are specific manifestations of URIs. Further information can be found in the eMedicine articles Otitis Media; Bronchiolitis; Bronchitis; and Pediatrics, Bronchiolitis; and in articles about specific infectious agents.

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Common URI terms are defined as follows

  • Rhinitis - Inflammation of the nasal mucosa.
  • Rhinosinusitis or sinusitis - Inflammation of the nares and paranasal sinuses, including frontal, ethmoid, maxillary, and sphenoid.
  • Nasopharyngitis (rhinopharyngitis or the common cold) - Inflammation of the nares, pharynx, hypopharynx, uvula, and tonsils.
  • Pharyngitis - Inflammation of the pharynx, hypopharynx, uvula, and tonsils.
  • Epiglottitis (supraglottitis) - Inflammation of the superior portion of the larynx and supraglottic area.
  • Laryngitis - Inflammation of the larynx.
  • Laryngotracheitis - Inflammation of the larynx, trachea, and subglottic area.
  • Tracheitis - Inflammation of the trachea and subglottic area.

Cough is usually the main symptom. Other symptoms include fever, headache, aches and pains. Cold symptoms may occur if the infection also affects the nose. Symptoms typically peak after 2-3 days, and then gradually clear. However, the cough may persist after the infection has gone. This is because inflammation in the airways, caused by the infection, can take a while to settle. It may take 2-3 weeks, after other symptoms have gone, for a cough to clear completely.


A main aim of treatment is to ease symptoms whilst your immune system clears the infection. The most useful treatments are.

  • Take paracetamol, ibuprofen, or aspirin to reduce fever (high temperature), and to ease any aches, pains and headaches. (Children aged under 16 should not take aspirin.).
  • Have lots to drink if you have a fever, to prevent mild dehydration.

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