Upper Respiratory Infection (URI), also known as common cold is an inflammation of the upper respiratory tract (nose, throat and sinuses) caused by viruses.  It is the most frequent illness in both children and adults. Adults may get up to 2 to 3 episodes in a year, whereas children may catch 8 to 12 colds per year. URI may occur at any time in a year; however it is usually more common in rainy days and during winter.



    Viruses are the most common cause of URI. Many viruses can cause URI but rhinovirus is the most common one. The virus  spreads via air after a sick person coughs or sneezes. If your are close to the person with the cold, you may catch the virus.  It can also spread by direct contact with infected people’s hand or other contaminated materials. If you touch your nose, eyes or mouth after the contact, you will catch the virus. Certain factors increase the risk of catching a cold.  Younger age, smoking cigarettes, living in a crowded space, weak immune system increase the risk of getting the cold. URI in general is more common during winter months.



    Most instances of he cold usually last for a week but sometimes may continue up to two weeks . The common symptoms of URI include:

    • nasal congestion;
    • running nose;
    • sore throat;
    • cough;
    • headache and myalgia;
    • hoarseness of voice;
    • postnasal drip;
    • malaise and tiredness;
    • low grade fever;
    • reduced appetite;
    • loss of taste and smell.


    Complications may include sinusitis, pneumonia,  ear infection, etc.



    The diagnosis is made on signs and symptoms. Sometimes you may need a chest x-ray or a throat swab. You should see your doctor if symptoms become worse due to suppression in immune system or due to a secondary infection or complications.



    There is no specific treatment for viral infection. Symptomatic relief is the objective. Antibiotics should not be used for viral URI unless there is a concern for a bacterial infection, which can occur if the common cold doesn’t resolve in two weeks. Below are some options for relief from the cold symptoms:

    • Take paracetamol for fever and malaise.
    • Vapour rubs and inhalant decongestants can be applied to children’s clothing to provide relief from blocked nose in children over 3 months of age.
    • Nasal decongestants can be used but should be avoided in children.
    • Antihistamines are shown not to be beneficial;  thus they should be avoided particularly in children.


    Other home remedies that help alleviate symptoms are:

    • Drink plenty of fluid and take adequate rest.
    • Fruit juices high in vitamin C, soups, gelatin, honey, lemon etc. help to ease congestion.
    • Gargle with warm salt water helps relieve throat pain; saline nasal drops also help ease congestion.
    • Steam inhalation is also a proven measure in easing URI symptoms.



    Ways to prevent and prevent the spread of URI include the following:

    • Hand washing is the key to prevent spread of URI. Wash your hands before touching your eyes, nose or mouth if you have touched any communal surfaces.
    • If you have URI:
      • Sneeze into your elbows or use tissues if you have cold, to prevent the spread of droplets.
      • Do not share your clothes, linen or utensils if you have URI.
      • Limit your visit to places where there will be exposure to a lot of other people such as, workplace, public places, school, etc.


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