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Signs You Have an Acute Upper Respiratory Infection, Say Physicians

What to know about the condition.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Upper respiratory infections may be short lived, but can be really painful. "Acute upper respiratory infection refers to an infection that is localized to the nose, throat and sinuses that will last a short period of time, usually a couple of days," Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell, Urgent Care Medical Director and Physician, Carbon Health, and Saint Mary's Hospital tells Eat This, Not That! Health. While the symptoms can be irritating and cause discomfort, the good news is upper respiratory infections don't cause serious harm to your health. Dr. Curry-Winchell explains what to know about upper respiratory infections and signs you have one. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Runny Nose/Nasal Congestion/Throat Pain

Ill young blond woman having fever and blowing her nose while having a blanket on her shoulders and sitting on the couch with her eyes closed and table with pills in front of her

Dr. Curry-Winchell says, "The dreaded feeling of a scratchy throat or a runny nose can sometimes be the initial sign of an acute upper respiratory infection.   This is caused by inflammation (irritation) of the nasal and throat passages causing nasal secretions."


Sinus Pain

man holding his nose because sinus pain

According to Dr. Curry-Winchell, "The first sign of sinus infection can be headache, pain or pressure in the nasal, cheekbones and tooth pain. I often see patients who thought they had a tooth infection and are surprised to find out it is a sinus infection.  This is caused by a build of secretions or mucus in the sinus passages and the location of sinuses near your back teeth located in the upper jaw. Most sinus infections last one to two weeks and resolve on their own."  



Young woman sitting alone on her sofa at home and coughing.

​​"A cough tends to start 1-2 days after the onset of runny nose or throat pain, which can be caused by irritation in the throat or bronchial passages that connect to your lungs," Dr. Curry-Winchell reveals. "If your cough lasts more than one week it is important to reach out to your health care provider to ensure the cough is not due to a more serious condition."


What Causes an Acute Upper Respiratory Infection?

Young woman feeling sick and sneezing in a tissue at home.

"Acute upper respiratory infections often referred to as (URI's) are caused by viruses like influenza referred to as the (flu) or bacteria illness associated with strep throat or sinus infections," says Dr. Curry-Winchell. 
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How Serious is an Acute Upper Respiratory Infection?

Woman holding pills on her hand.

Dr. Curry-Winchell shares, "Most infections are mild and respond well to supportive measures such as over the counter medications to alleviate discomfort such as a scratchy throat or runny nose. However, if your symptoms last longer than a week or you develop new symptoms such as fever, fatigue, or new developments it's important to seek out a health care provider."

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Preventing an Acute Upper Respiratory Infection

Woman Washing her hands with soap and water at home bathroom

Dr. Curry-Winchell reminds us, "Germs are everywhere however washing your hands often especially after contact with frequent touch point surfaces can be helpful. You increase risks of infection if you have touched a surface and then touch your face which we all tend to do (which allows a virus to come into contact with your eyes and nose)."

RELATED: Sure Signs You Have an UTI, Say Physicians


Treating an Acute Upper Respiratory infection

woman drinking water

Dr. Curry-Winchell says, "Staying hydrated with healthy fluids like water or drinks with electrolytes and getting plenty of rest can help.  If needed over the counter medications that contain antihistamine and anti-inflammatories like Tylenol or ibuprofen will decrease discomfort and pain." 

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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