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Respiratory tract infection (RTI) refers to any of a number of infectious diseases involving the respiratory tract. An infection of this type is normally further classified as an upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) or a lower respiratory tract infection (LRTI).

The upper respiratory tract is generally considered to be the airway above the glottis or vocal cords. This includes the nose, sinuses, pharynx, and larynx.Typical infections of the upper respiratory tract include tonsillitis, pharyngitis, laryngitis, sinusitis, otitis mediaand the common cold.The most widespread respiratory tract infection is the common cold.Symptoms of URIs can include cough (most common symptom), sore throat, runny nose, nasal congestion, headache, low grade fever, facial pressure and sneezing.

The lower respiratory tract consists of the trachea (wind pipe), bronchial tubes, the bronchioles, and the lungs. The two most common LRIs are bronchitis and pneumonia.Lower respiratory infectionstend to be far more serious conditions than upper respiratory infections. The main symptom of a lower RTI is also a cough, although it is usually more severe and you may bring up phlegm and mucus. Other possible symptoms are a tight feeling in your chest, increased rate of breathing, breathlessness and wheezing. LRIs are the leading cause of death among all infectious diseases.

Infections of the respiratory track

Respiratory tract infections (RTIs) are believed to be one of the main reasons why people visit their doctor. RTIs can spread in several ways. If you have an infection such as a cold, tiny droplets of fluid containing the cold virus are launched into the air whenever you sneeze, cough or speak. When someone inhales these droplets these droplets, they may also become infected.Infections can also be spread through direct and indirect contact. For example, if you have a cold and you touch your nose or eyes before touching someone else, you may pass the virus on to them.

Most RTIs will pass without the need for treatment and you usually won't need to see your doctor. You can treat your symptoms at home by taking over-the-counter painkillers, drinking plenty of fluids and resting.Antibiotics are NOT usually recommended for treating RTIs, because most are caused by viruses and not by bacterial infections.

It is recommended that you visit your doctor if:

  • your symptoms suggest that you may have pneumonia, for example if you are coughing up bloody mucus and phlegm
  • you are feeling very unwell
  • you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes
  • you have a pre-existing heart, lung, liver or kidney condition
  • you have a condition that affects your nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis
  • you have cystic fibrosis
  • you have a weakened immune system
  • you have been admitted to hospital at some time during the past year
  • you are taking a type of steroid medication called glucocorticoid

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