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    How Long Do Upper Respiratory Infections Last?

    Upper respiratory infections can be contagious for a few days to a few weeks. Learn how long your illness may be infectious in this article.


    How Long are Upper Respiratory Infections Contagious?

    Medically reviewed by Kenneth Knowles, MD,  January 16th, 2021

    By DispatchHealth Staff, January 22, 2021 04:33 AM

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    You’ve probably heard plenty of talk lately about contagious periods for COVID-19, but what about other common illnesses? For example, upper respiratory infections are incredibly common among adults and children alike, but few people understand how long these conditions are contagious, or if they are even contagious at all. Let’s take a closer look at the infectious periods for upper respiratory infections and how you can help keep those around you safe and healthy.

    Upper Respiratory Infection Definition

    An upper respiratory infection, or a URI, is a contagious infection in the upper respiratory tract, which includes the bronchi, larynx, pharynx, throat, and nose. Upper respiratory infections can be caused by viruses or bacteria. (In case you’re wondering, COVID-19 is considered a lower respiratory infection).

    There are multiple types of upper respiratory infections, including:

    The Common Cold

    It’s called “common” for a reason—colds are by far the most widespread upper respiratory infection. Most adults catch two or three colds every year, and children tend to have even more. The common cold is usually contagious for a few days before symptoms develop until all symptoms are gone, which is usually about two weeks.The risk of spreading the cold to others is considered highest during the first two or three days of symptoms.

    Sinus Infection

    A sinus infection (sinusitis) can be caused by a virus or bacteria. Viral sinus infections make up most cases, and may be transmittable for a few days before symptoms start to a week afterward. Sinus infections caused by bacteria are not considered to be contagious—a key sign of a bacterial sinus infection is symptoms that last more than 10 days.


    Laryngitis is an inflammation of the larynx, or the voice box. It may develop as a result of a virus, bacteria, or fungi. Viral laryngitis tends to be contagious when fever is present. Laryngitis caused by bacteria or fungi is more infectious than viral laryngitis, but it is less easily spread than most other upper respiratory infections.


    Acute bronchitis is an infection of the bronchial tubes that carry air to the lungs. Its infectious period can vary, but typically lasts as long as symptoms do. Chronic bronchitis, a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), is not likely to be contagious.


    The flu (influenza) is more of a systemic illness than an upper respiratory infection, even though its symptoms can be similar to a cold. It’s usually infectious for three to seven days after symptoms start. Children and people with compromised immune systems may be contagious for a few days longer.

    Stop the Spread of Germs

    Of course, the best way to prevent spreading a respiratory infection to others is to simply stay at home if you are sick. If you must leave your house, be sure to follow these easy tips from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC):

    Be mindful of how close you are to others—try to stay at least six feet away

    Wear a mask

    Cover your nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing, then thoroughly wash your hands

    When washing your hands, use soap and gently scrub for 20 seconds

    In-Home Medical Treatment for Contagious Illnesses

    You may find yourself in a predicament if you need medical care for a contagious upper respiratory infection. You’d like to consult with a healthcare professional about your symptoms, but exposing other patients to your illness—and being exposed to theirs—doesn’t sound too appealing. That’s where DispatchHealth comes in. We offer convenient and affordable in-home medical care to adults and children every day, including weekends and holidays.

    Requesting care from DispatchHealth is simple. Simply go on our website, give us a call, or use our app, and we’ll arrive at your doorstep in a matter of hours. Our fully equipped medical teams have ample experience treating respiratory illnesses and follow the most stringent of infection control measures, including wearing personal protection equipment and sanitizing equipment and vehicles following appointments.

    Have questions? Contact DispatchHealth today to learn more about our on-demand, in-home medical care services. Most insurances are accepted.


    DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies.

    Sources referenced in this article:

    Source : www.dispatchhealth.com

    Upper Respiratory Infection: Symptoms, Contagious, Treatment

    An upper respiratory infection affects your sinuses and throat. Upper respiratory infection symptoms include a runny nose, cough and throat pain.

    Upper Respiratory Infection

    An upper respiratory infection affects the upper part of your respiratory system, including your sinuses and throat. Upper respiratory infection symptoms include a runny nose, sore throat and cough. Treatment for upper respiratory infections often includes rest, fluids and over-the-counter pain relievers. Infections usually go away on their own.

    What is a respiratory infection?

    A respiratory tract infection affects the respiratory system, the part of your body responsible for breathing. These infections can affect your sinuses, throat, lungs or airways. There are two types of respiratory infections:

    Upper respiratory infections.

    Lower respiratory infections.

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    What is an upper respiratory infection?

    These infections affect your sinuses and throat. Upper respiratory infections include:

    Common cold. Epiglottitis. Laryngitis.

    Pharyngitis (sore throat).

    Sinusitis (sinus infection).

    What is a lower respiratory infection?

    A lower respiratory infection affects the airways and lungs. In general, lower respiratory infections last longer and are more serious. These infections include:

    Bronchitis, a lung infection that causes coughing and fever.

    Bronchiolitis, a lung infection that mostly affects young children.

    Chest infection. Pneumonia.

    What causes upper respiratory infections?

    You get an upper respiratory infection when a virus (or bacteria) enters your respiratory system. For example, you might touch an infected surface or shake hands with a person who’s sick. You then touch your mouth, nose or eyes. The germs from your hands enter and infect your body.

    Who’s at risk for upper respiratory infections?

    These infections are common, and anyone can catch one. Yet certain groups of people are more at risk of catching infections. Children are at a high risk since they are often with other children who may be carrying a virus. Children may also wash their hands less frequently than adults. Plus, they’re more likely to put their fingers in their eyes, nose and mouth, allowing the germs to spread easily.

    People who have heart or lung problems are also at higher risk of getting an upper respiratory infection. Those who have weak immune systems (due to another disease) may get more severe infections.

    How are upper respiratory infections diagnosed?

    Your healthcare provider may diagnose the infection based on a physical exam and your symptoms. They’ll look in your nose, ears and throat and listen to your chest to examine your breathing. You often don’t need other tests.

    If your provider is concerned you may have a lung infection or another infection, you may need a:

    Lung (chest) X-ray. Lung CT scan.

    Lung (pulmonary) function test to see how your lungs are working.

    Nasal swab. Throat swab.

    Sputum test, when you cough up some sputum (phlegm from your lungs) for examination.

    Are upper respiratory infections contagious?

    Yes, upper respiratory infections are contagious. They pass from person to person through respiratory droplets or hand-to-hand contact. People who have an upper respiratory infection can pass it to others through:

    Sneezing or coughing without covering their nose and mouth. This sprays germs into the air. Other people can breathe in those germ-filled droplets.

    Sneezing or coughing into their hand and then touching someone else’s hand. The droplets are now on the other person’s hand. When that person touches their nose, mouth or eyes, the infection enters their body.

    What are the symptoms of upper respiratory infections?

    You may get symptoms, including:

    Cough. Fever. Hoarse voice.

    Fatigue and lack of energy.

    Red eyes. Runny nose. Sore throat.

    Swollen lymph nodes (swelling on the sides of your neck).

    How long do upper respiratory infections last?

    Upper respiratory infections typically last one to two weeks. Most of the time, they go away on their own. Over-the-counter pain medications can help you feel better. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.

    If your symptoms last longer than two weeks, talk to your healthcare provider. You may have another condition that is causing the symptoms, such as pneumonia or bronchitis.

    Can antibiotics treat upper respiratory infections?

    Most of the time, viruses cause upper respiratory infections. Viruses don’t respond to antibiotics. You can most likely treat the symptoms at home through pain relievers, rest and drinking fluids. If you have a bacterial infection, such as strep throat, you’ll take antibiotics. Penicillin or amoxicillin are frequently prescribed for strep throat.

    When should I see a healthcare provider for an upper respiratory infection?

    If you have any of these symptoms, contact your healthcare provider or seek medical help:

    Loss of consciousness.

    High fever (higher than 103 F).

    Rapid breathing or difficulty breathing.

    Frequent, severe coughing, which may come with vomiting.

    Wheezing, a high-pitched whistling sound when you breathe out.


    Retractions, when you see a deeper outline of your ribcage or ribs than you normally do. (This sign may be more obvious in children).

    Source : my.clevelandclinic.org

    Upper Respiratory Infection: Symptoms, Treatment, Causes & Contagious

    Upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) are contagious infections caused by a variety of bacteria and viruses such as influenza (the flu), strep, rhinoviruses, whooping cough, and diphtheria. Bacterial causes of URIs can be treated and cure with antibiotics but viral infections cannot.

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    Symptoms of upper respiratory infection include cough, sneezing, nasal discharge, nasal congestion, runny nose, fever, scratchy or sore throat, and nasal breathing.Source: iStock

    Facts you should know about an upper respiratory tract infection (URTI)

    Upper respiratory infections (URIs) are one of the most common reasons for doctor visits.

    Upper respiratory infections are the most common illness resulting in missed work or school.

    Upper respiratory tract infections can happen at any time but are most common in the fall and winter.

    The vast majority of upper respiratory infections are caused by viruses and are self-limited.

    Symptoms of upper respiratory infection include

    cough, sneezing, nasal discharge, nasal congestion, runny nose, fever,

    scratchy or sore throat, and

    nasal breathing.

    Antibiotics are rarely needed to treat upper respiratory infections and generally should be avoided unless the doctor suspects a bacterial infection.

    Simple techniques, such as proper handwashing and covering the face while coughing or sneezing, may reduce the spread of respiratory tract infections.

    The general outlook for upper respiratory infections is favorable, although, sometimes complications can occur.

    Upper Respiratory Tract Infection

    The Common Cold

    The common cold refers to a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract. Characteristic symptoms of the common cold include

    cough, stuffy or runny nose, scratchy or sore throat, sneezing.

    Read more symptoms of the common cold »

    The upper respiratory tract includes the sinuses, nasal passages, pharynx, and larynx.Source: Getty Images

    What is an upper respiratory infection?

    The upper respiratory tract includes the sinuses, nasal passages, pharynx, and larynx. These structures direct the air we breathe from the outside to the trachea and eventually to the lungs for respiration to take place.

    An upper respiratory tract infection, or upper respiratory infection, is an infectious process of any of the components of the upper airway.

    Infection of the specific areas of the upper respiratory tract can be named specifically. Examples of these may include rhinitis (inflammation of the nasal cavity), sinus infection (sinusitis or rhinosinusitis) -- inflammation of the sinuses located around the nose, common cold (nasopharyngitis) -- inflammation of the nares, pharynx, hypopharynx, uvula, and tonsils, pharyngitis (inflammation of the pharynx, uvula, and tonsils), epiglottitis (inflammation of the upper portion of the larynx or the epiglottis), laryngitis (inflammation of the larynx), laryngotracheitis (inflammation of the larynx and the trachea), and tracheitis (inflammation of the trachea).

    Upper respiratory infections are one of the most frequent causes for a doctor visit with varying symptoms ranging from a runny nose, sore throat, cough, to breathing difficulty, and lethargy. In the United States, upper respiratory infections are the most common illness leading to missing school or work.

    Although upper respiratory infections can happen at any time, they are most common in the fall and winter months, from September until March. This may be explained because these are the usual school months when children and adolescents spend a lot of time in groups and inside closed doors. Furthermore, many viruses of upper respiratory infection thrive in the low humidity of the winter.

    Most upper respiratory infections are contagious.Source: iStock

    Is an upper respiratory infection contagious?

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    A majority of upper respiratory infections are due to self-limited viral infections. Occasionally, bacterial infections may cause upper respiratory infections. Most often, upper respiratory infection is contagious and can spread from person to person by inhaling respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing. The transmission of respiratory infections can also occur by touching the nose or mouth by hand or other objects exposed to the virus.

    The URTI is generally caused by the direct invasion of the inner lining (mucosa or mucus membrane) of the upper airway by the culprit virus or bacteria.Source: Getty Images

    What are the causes of an upper respiratory infection?

    The URTI is generally caused by the direct invasion of the inner lining (mucosa or mucus membrane) of the upper airway by the culprit virus or bacteria. In order for the pathogens (viruses and bacteria) to invade the mucus membrane of the upper airways, they have to fight through several physical and immunologic barriers.

    Source : www.medicinenet.com

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