Respiratory Infections

An acute respiratory infection is an infection that may interfere with normal breathing.
This type of infection can occur anywhere in the nose, throat, or lungs and can be caused by bacteria or a virus.


Upper respiratory infections are more commonly seen in patients than lower respiratory infections.

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The upper respiratory system includes the nose, mouth, sinuses and throat. When you have an upper respiratory infection symptoms generally include:

  • Cough

  • Fever (most commonly in children)

  • Nasal Discharge

  • Nasal Congestion

  • Painful Swallowing

  • Runny Nose

  • Sneezing

  • Sore Throat


Less common symptoms may include foul breath, headaches, sinus pain, itchy and water eyes, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and body aches. Symptoms can last between 3-14 days. Some examples of upper respiratory infections include sinusitis, strep throat, tonsillitis and pharyngitis.


The lower respiratory system includes the bronchial tubes and lungs. When you have a lower respiratory infection symptoms typically include:

  • Chest Pain

  • Cough

  • Fever

  • Shortness of Breath

  • Sputum Production


Less common symptoms can include wheezing, drooling and abnormal sounds with breathing. Some examples of lower respiratory infections include pneumonia and bronchitis.

Who is at Risk?

Respiratory problems are common at every age, and can be as minor as the common cold or as serious as pneumonia. Smokers and asthmatics are at a higher risk for respiratory infections.


Treatment of a respiratory tract infection is dependent on the type of infection in the respiratory system. Antibiotics may not be needed to treat upper respiratory infections and generally should be avoided, unless your doctor suspects a bacterial infection.


A healthcare professional can recommend various over the counter drugs, as well as prescription drugs to aid in your recovery process. A combination of antihistamines, cough medications, decongestants and even steroids may be recommended and prescribed by a physician.

When should I see a Doctor for a Respiratory Infection?

Visiting a healthcare professional may be advisable if you have been experiencing prolonged symptoms, symptoms are severe and worsening, or the infection appears to be recurring.

This page offers general health information to facilitate discussion with your telehealth provider. You must not rely on the information on our website as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.

MeMD is a convenient and secure way to receive medical care for respiratory infections online, over the phone, or by app 24/7/365.

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