What is the treatment for upper respiratory infection?
As described above, most cases of upper respiratory infection are caused by viruses and therefore, require no specific treatment and are self-limited. People with upper respiratory infections typically diagnose themselves and treat their symptoms at home without requiring doctor’s visit or prescription medications.
Rest is an important step in treating upper respiratory infections. Usual activities, such as, working and light exercising may be continued as much as tolerated.
Increased intake of oral fluids is also generally advised to keep up with the fluid loss from runny nose, fevers, and poor appetite associated with upper respiratory infections.
Treatment of the symptoms of upper respiratory infection is usually continued until the infection has resolved.
Some of the most common upper respiratory infection or cold medications used to treat these symptoms are the following:
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be used to reduce fever and body aches.
- Nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) can be used for body aches and fever.
- Antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) are helpful in decreasing nasal secretions and congestions.
- Nasal ipratropium (topical) can be used to diminish nasal secretions.
- Cough medications (antitussives) can be used to reduce cough. Many cough medications are commercially available such as dextromethorphan, guaifenesin (Robitussin), and codeine all have shown benefits in reducing cough in upper respiratory infections.
- Honey can be used in reducing cough.
- Steroids such as dexamethasone (Decadron) and prednisone orally (and nasally) are sometimes used reduce inflammation of the airway passage and decrease swelling and congestion.
- Decongestants such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) Actifed oral, phenylephrine (Neo-synephrine nasal) can be used to reduce nasal congestion (generally not recommended in children less than 2 years of age and not recommended for individuals with high blood pressure).
- Oxymetazoline (Afrin) nasal solution is a decongestant, but should only be used for short-term.
- Combination medications containing many of these components are also widely available over the counter.
Some cough and cold medicines can cause excessive drowsiness need to be used with caution in children younger than 4 years of age and the elderly.
Broad-spectrum antibiotics are sometimes used to treat upper respiratory infections if a bacterial infection is suspected or diagnosed. These conditions may include strep throat, bacterial sinusitis, or epiglottitis. Antivirals may occasionally be recommended by doctors in patients who are immunocompromised (poor immune system). The treating doctor can determine which antibiotic would be the best option for a particular infection.
Because antibiotic use is associated with many side effects and can promote bacterial resistance and secondary infections, they need to be used very cautiously and only under the direction of a treating physician.
Inhaled epinephrine is sometimes used in children with severe spasm of the airways (bronchospasm) and in croup to reduce spasm.
Rarely, surgical procedures may be necessary in cases of complicated sinus infections, compromised airway with difficulty breathing, formation of abscesses behind the throat, or abscess formation of the tonsils (peritonsillar abscess).