Upper Respiratory Infection Symptoms

By Stephanie Watson and Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
December 04, 2023
Upper Respiratory Infection Symptoms

Before you ask the doctor for antibiotics, learn the causes and symptoms of an upper respiratory infection and how to treat upper respiratory infection symptoms.

Are you sneezing, sniffling, nursing a sore throat, and mopping up a runny nose? Your symptoms could be due to an infection of the upper respiratory tract, which includes the nose, sinuses, throat, and voice box. 

Although doctors often dispense antibiotic prescriptions to treat these infections, viruses are to blame for nearly all of them, which means an antibiotic won’t help and instead is likely to interfere with a healthy gut.

Here’s a guide to upper respiratory infection symptoms that could be bugging you.


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The common cold is aptly named because it is one of our most common afflictions. Adults come down with two to four bouts of this viral illness each year, and kids catch up to eight colds annually. Normally, people recover in 10 days; it takes a bit longer if you smoke.

Colds can develop into bronchitis and other, more serious infections — especially in the elderly and children. A cold can also exacerbate chronic conditions like asthma.

The numerous virus strains that cause colds — more than 100 in all — make a cold a hard illness to treat with a one-size-fits-all medicine.

Your best option is to wait it out, as over-the-counter cold medicine and antihistamines aren’t necessarily good for you and, at best, can relieve symptoms briefly.

Researchers are studying the genetic makeup of cold virus strains, hoping to develop more targeted drugs that treat the disease itself.


Pain around your eyes and nose, a stuffed nose that doesn’t open up, and thick yellow or green discharge from your nose could be signs you’ve developed sinusitis.

This infection affects your sinuses — the hollow area behind your nose and eyes. Doctors often prescribe antibiotics for sinus infections.

That’s a mistake.

“If the infection turns out to be viral — as most are — the antibiotics won’t help and in fact can cause harm by increasing antibiotic resistance, exposing patients to drug side effects unnecessarily and adding cost,” says Anthony W. Chow, MD, professor emeritus of infectious diseases at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.

Instead, experts recommend easing symptoms with a nasal steroid spray or rinse and an over-the-counter pain reliever.

If you’re running a fever, your symptoms don’t improve after 10 days, or you’ve had nasal discharge and facial pain for more than three days, you might have bacterial sinusitis. In that case, you will need antibiotics to treat the infection.


Pharyngitis — more familiar to most of us as a sore throat — also gets treated with antibiotics much of the time. Most people who see their doctor for an irritated throat walk out with a prescription. Yet viruses cause most sore throats, according to the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

To soothe a sore throat, gargle with warm salt water, take an over-the-counter pain reliever, and drink plenty of water. The cold or other infection that caused it should ease up in a few days.

If the soreness doesn’t go away after several days, check with your doctor to see if you need an antibiotic.


The tonsils are two round lumps of tissue at the back of your throat, on either side. Just about every kid knows what the tonsils are because they often swell up with bacteria or viruses during strep throat or other infections.

When a virus causes tonsillitis, the best advice is to rest, drink plenty of fluids, and suck on a lozenge or take an over-the-counter pain reliever to ease discomfort. Bacterial tonsillitis should respond to antibiotics.


You might call it a “frog in your throat” or say “I’ve lost my voice,” but what you’re really talking about is laryngitis. An infection can cause this inflammation of the voice box (larynx), although talking or singing too much can also contribute to inflammation.

If you come down with laryngitis, rest your voice. Suck on throat lozenges, drink lots of water, and use a humidifier to add moisture until your voice returns. 


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December 04, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN