Upper Respiratory Tract Infections

Upper respiratory tract infections are caused by viruses. Common upper respiratory tract infections include common cold, flu, cough, and viral sore throat. These may occur year round or seasonally (fall and winter).

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General Treatment Recommendations

Antibiotics do not cure viral infections. If given when not needed, antibiotics can be harmful. The treatments below can help you feel better while your body's own defenses are fighting the virus.

  • Get regular and adequate amounts of sleep.
  • Drink extra water. Recommended daily water intake ranges from 95-125 ounces (2.7-3.7L.)
  • Use a cool mist vaporizer or saline nasal spray to relieve congestion. Hot liquids and hot showers can help.
  • For sore throats, ice chips, sore throat spray or lozenges can help symptoms.
  • Use saline gargles for sore throat 2-4 times per day. Mix 1/2 a teaspoon salt into 1/2 a glass of water.

If you go to an Urgent Care

It is very common to receive antibiotic treatment for a viral infection when you go to an Urgent Care center. Because of the frequency of antibiotic prescribing in these settings, it is in your best interest to ask:

  1. For what bacterial infection are you prescribing this medication?
  2. What makes you think this infection is bacterial rather than viral?

It is also common to start to “feel better” after being on antibiotics. Research shows, however, that this sensation of feeling better often occurs because a person’s immune system has gotten to work and started to clear the infecting virus on its own, irrespective of antibiotic use.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medicines

These medications can assist in reducing symptoms and discomfort. Avoid products containing multiple medications, instead, treat specific symptoms. Use medicines according to package instructions or as directed by your healthcare provider. Stop medications when symptoms get better. 

  • For fever or body aches (dosages listed below are recommended for the average size adult)
    • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) 500mg-650mg every 4 hours, not to exceed 4000mg in 24 hours
    • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) 400mg-600mg every 6 hours
  • To ease nasal and sinus congestion, try one:
    • Antihistamine (Benadryl - sedating; Allegra, Claritin, Zyrtec - non-sedating)
    • Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed original formula - inquire at pharmacy counter with an ID)
    • Nasal Spray (Nasacort, Flonase)
  • To lessen cough and chest congestion:
    • Dextromethorphan - cough suppressant;
    • Gualfenesin - thins mucus and relieves chest congestion; or
    • combination of both (Mucinex DM, Robitussin OM)

Good Hygiene Practices

  • Cover your mouth and nose with your elbow when you cough or sneeze. If you cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, properly dispose of used tissues and use hand sanitizer afterwards.
  • Wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds and use hand sanitizer frequently, especially after coughing or sneezing.
  • Do not share things that come in contact with your nose or mouth while sick.
  • If you are unable to stay home/limit contact with others, wear a mask to reduce spread.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Contact UHS (609-258-3141) or Public Safety (609-258-1000) promptly if you experience:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Inability to stay hydrated or signs of dehydration, such as significant dizziness
  • Confusion or severe headache
  • High fever for more than three days

Illness Prevention Tips

To lower your risk of contracting an illness, try these general tips:

  • If a vaccine is available and appropriate for you, get vaccinated. (Note: it can take about 2 weeks to reach full immunity.)
  • Avoid sharing anything that comes in contact with someone's mouth, including cups, utensils, lip balm, straws, or smoking materials.
  • Wash hands with soap and water frequently. Use hand sanitizer when you are unable to wash.
  • Avoid contact with someone who is sick or if contact is unavoidable, wear a mask around them.
  • Aim to consume a diet rich in vitamins.
  • Move your body regularly.
  • Get enough sleep, so that you do not feel tired during the day.
  • Avoid using alcohol, which can impair your immune system.
  • Avoid smoking tobacco or cannabis, which can increase lung inflammation and susceptibility to illnesses, as well as exacerbate respiratory illness symptoms.