An upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) is an irritation of your lungs and airways (your upper respiratory system). It is caused when bacteria or a virus enters your body after you touch an infected surface or shake hands with a person who has a URTI. If you then touch your mouth, nose, or eyes, the germs from your hands enter your respiratory system and cause an infection.
The most common URTI is a cold. A URTI can also be laryngitis, a sore throat (pharyngitis), a sinus infection (sinusitis), or the flu (influenza). The flu is different from a common cold because is caused by a different virus and produces more severe symptoms.
URTIs are common and contagious. Children are at a high risk because they are often with other children who might be carrying the virus. When a child with a viral respiratory tract infection sneezes or coughs, the output contains more viruses than output from infected adults. This increase together with the tendency of children to wash their hands less often than adults means it is more likely that children will spread their infection to others.
Adults who have asthma, heart or lung problems, and those with weak immune systems are at higher risk of getting a URTI or a more severe infection.
Common-sense measures to prevent getting a URTI include minimizing close contact with people who are coughing and sneezing and frequent handwashing if contact cannot be avoided.
Contrary to popular thought, becoming chilled, wet, or tired, will not give you a cold or increase your susceptibility to infection. Adults get a cold two or three times a year; children often have up to eight colds a year. In the U.S., colds are more common in the fall and winter.
MicroGenDX test used in diagnosing upper respiratory tract infections
An evaluation and culture (growing microbes from your sample in a lab) are often used to diagnose infections. However, standard cultures may come back negative even when you actually do have an infection, and that means your infection won’t be treated. Instead of relying on culture, a MicroGenDX test detects the DNA of all microbes in your sample, along with how much of each is present, and uses that information to identify the microbes in your infection and the drugs that can best treat it.
Medical specialties treating upper respiratory tract infections
Most URTIs are mild and do not require specific treatment. If your symptoms last longer than two weeks, consider visiting your primary healthcare provider. In some cases, your provider might refer you to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist.
How upper respiratory tract infections are treated
Depending on your symptoms, your healthcare provider might base a diagnosis on a physical exam. Your provider will look in your ears, nose, and throat and listen to your chest as you breathe. If your provider thinks you might have an infection, you might need a sputum test.
Knowing what kind of bacteria, virus, or fungus is causing the infection can result in more effective therapy. Viruses cause most URTIs.
It is important to know that not all antibiotics work for all bacteria, and some even work differently in different areas of the body. In addition, a viral infection should be treated with antiviral medication rather than antibiotics. Your doctor should consult the “antimicrobials for consideration” chart on your MicroGenDX report to decide which treatment is right for you.
It is important to complete the full course of medication as it is prescribed, even when symptoms begin to clear up before you are treated. Rarely, you may develop resistance to specific antibiotics and cannot be effectively treated with those drugs. This is why all MicroGenDX diagnostic tests include detection of antibiotic resistance genes in your sample and provide alternative antibiotics for your doctor to consider prescribing to you.