How to Protect You and Your Family from Respiratory Infections

During the fall and winter months, influenza (flu) gets a bad rap. But the truth is, there are thousands of viruses and bacteria out there that can result in respiratory infections.

Besides typical upper respiratory infections like the common cold and an ear infection, there are also lower respiratory infections including acute bronchitis, croup cough and bronchiolitis.

Despite your best efforts to prevent illness, it’s not unusual for you to get sick a couple of times a year and your kids even more frequently.

So, how can you help your family feel better once they’re under the weather? Let’s take a look.

Common Symptoms of a Respiratory Infection

While a respiratory tract infection can affect different areas of the respiratory system – from your sinuses to your lungs – the symptoms are largely the same.

Catching these symptoms early can help you combat them and the underlying infection before it gets worse.

1. Cough

A cough is a normal reflex action when you have mucus production from a virus or bacteria in your respiratory tract. It’s your body’s way of clearing your throat to make it easier to breathe.

However, if your cough becomes bothersome and drinking water doesn’t help, try a cough medicine. 

2. Runny Nose

Though it may be annoying, nasal discharge from the upper respiratory tract or the sinuses is actually a good thing! It traps germs, washes them away and prevents them from entering your lungs.

Besides staying hydrated, using a humidifier, warm compress or decongestant nasal spray are great home remedies.

3. Sore Throat

A sore throat is characterized by a painful, dry or scratchy feeling in your throat. While viruses cause most sore throats, bacteria that enter your system can also result in bacterial infections like strep throat.

You can reduce pain with throat lozenges or over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Here are more helpful home remedies.

4. Body Aches

As your immune system works hard to fight off a viral infection like the cold or flu, it can result in inflammation that causes headaches, swollen lymph nodes and body aches.

Make sure to get plenty of rest and water, and if the pain doesn’t subside, over-the-counter medications can help.

5. Fatigue

When you have a viral infection, your body’s immune system is working in overdrive and you might notice you’re overly fatigued.

To regain strength, ensure you rest up and eat a healthy diet so you have the energy stores needed to combat your infection.

When to Seek Medical Care

What’s reassuring is that most respiratory infections will resolve on their own with time. However, there are some warning signs that an infection could be something more serious.

If you or a family member have a high-grade fever ( > 101.6 degrees) , difficulty breathing, chest pain, dizziness or loss of consciousness, you should visit a healthcare practitioner immediately.

Expect them to get a history and perform a physical examination. Then, depending on your infection symptoms, they might also want to do more extensive imaging like an X-ray or CT scan.

How to Avoid a Respiratory Infection

Given the sheer number of viruses and bacteria that exist – and the fact that many are easily spread when you’re in close contact with an infected person – it makes sense that you may get sick a couple of times a year.

But what about those people who never seem to be ill? What’s their secret? Here are some helpful tips to follow:

  • Get all necessary vaccinations, including your annual flu vaccine
  • Wash your hands regularly, especially after you’ve been in a public place
  • Avoid touching your face to prevent germs from entering your system
  • Eat a diet rich in vitamins and minerals
  • Routinely sleep at least 7 hours a night
  • Exercise on a regular basis and meditate to reduce your stress levels

If you’re not sure if you’re suffering from a respiratory tract infection or something else, or you want help managing your symptoms, stop by GoHealth Urgent Care.

You can walk in or save your spot online. 

Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant