Respiratory Tract Infections: An Overview-Dr. Aditi ChopraRespiratory Tract is a collective term for all the parts of the body which help a person in breathing. Anatomically, the respiratory tract can be divided into an upper and lower part. The Upper Respiratory Tract consists of the nose, mouth, sinuses and throat. The Lower Respiratory Tract consists of the trachea, bronchial tubes and the lungs. An infection which affects any of these parts is known as a Respiratory Tract Infection (RTI). Corresponding to the anatomic division, the respiratory tract infections can also be classified as Upper and Lower Respiratory Tract Infections.Respiratory Tract Infections are one of the commonest reasons for the visit to a general physician. Children are usually more vulnerable to these infections than adults.Causes of Respiratory Tract Infections:Following are the common causes of Respiratory Tract Infections:Virus: Majority of the RTIs are caused by viruses. More than two hundred types of virus cause RTIs but they mainly belong to two groups, namely, rhinovirus and coronavirus. The most common respiratory tract infection is a cold. The number of different viruses that can cause a cold is the reason why it is possible to have several colds, one after the other, with each one being caused by a different virus.Bacteria: Bacterial respiratory tract infections are less common than the viral infections. Pneumonia is the most common bacteria RTI caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria.Spread of Respiratory Tract Infections:RTIs can spread in several ways but the commonest modes are:• Droplet Infection- Tiny droplets are released into the air whenever an infected person sneezes, coughs or speaks. If these are breathed in by someone else, he or she may also become infected.• Direct or Indirect Contact- If an infected person touches his nose or mouth before touching someone else, the other person might get infected. Alternatively, infection might also by indirect contact of infected objects.Upper Respiratory Tract Infections:Common upper respiratory tract infections include:• the common cold• sore throat – usually due to an infection of the pharynx (pharyngitis)• tonsillitis – infection of the tonsils• sinusitis – infection of the sinuses• laryngitis – infection of the larynxSymptoms of Upper Respiratory Tract infections include:• cough• running nose/ stuffy nose• sneezing• headaches• muscle aches• discomfort in the throatLower Respiratory Tract Infections:Common lower respiratory tract infections include:• flu – which can affect either the upper or lower respiratory tract• bronchitis – infection of the airways• pneumonia – infection of the lungs• bronchiolitis – an infection of the small airways that affects babies and children aged under two• tuberculosis – persistent bacterial infection of the lungsSymptoms of lower Respiratory Tract Infections:• Cough which may be accompanied by mucus and phlegm• Tightness of the chest• Breathlessness• Blocked nose• Wheezing• Sore throat• Fever and chills• acheIn general, lower respiratory tract infections are more serious than upper respiratory tract infections.Complications of Respiratory Tract Infections:Most respiratory tract infections except for pneumonia do not cause complications. Pneumonia, however, if untreated can lead to severe medical complications like pleurisy, pleural effusion and septicaemia. It is therefore imperative that a physician is consulted in such cases.Prevention of spread of Respiratory Tract Infections:Once RTI has been acquired, it is important that its spread is prevented. Simple steps can be taken to prevent the spread of RTIs such as:• Washing hands regularly, specially after touching the nose or mouth• Covering the nose and mouth while coughing and sneezing• Not sharing the utensils with uninfected peopleTreatment of Respiratory Tract Infection: The best treatment of respiratory tract infections is self- care.• Stay Hydrated- Drink plenty of fluids• Rest- Avoid exerting too much• Maintain a comfortable temperature with good ventilation• Raise the head of the bed slightly to reduce coughing at night• Stay away from smoke• Have a warm water bath• Keep a cough medicine handy• Paracetamol or Ibuprofen can help relieve the symptoms of fever• Do not take antibiotics except in cases of pneumonia- Since most respiratory infections are caused by viruses, antibiotics should be avoided as they do not work in viral infections. However, in cases of pneumonia, antibiotics should be taken in consultation with the physician.Home Remedies for Respiratory Tract Infections:• Gargle with lukewarm salt water to relieve throat discomfort• Inhaling an infusion of boiling water and eucalyptus oil can help relieve nasal congestion• Consumption of warm milk with turmeric powder also serves as a good natural remedy• Taking ginger tea is one of the simplest and most effective ways to fight the infection• A combination of lemon juice and honey in lukewarm water can help in easing the throat pain• Herbal teas prepared from echinacea, elm bark and licorice root with the addition of honey serve as an efficient remedy• Adding a garlic supplement to the diet can help in reducing the symptoms• Taking a diet rich in Vitamin C helps to build up the body immunityReferences:•••••


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