By Dr Shan Narayanan
Respiratory tract infection is the most common reason for visiting the doctor. In this article, I will be discussing about Upper Respiratory Infection in general.
Children tend to get more URTI than adults as their immune system is still maturing.
What is URTI?
It is the infection of the Upper Respiratory Tract i.e. nose, sinuses and throat. The common URTIs are:
- The common cold.
- Pharyngitis: infection of the back of the throat.
- Tonsillitis: infection of tonsils.
- Sinusitis: infection of the sinuses.
- Laryngitis: Infection of the voice box (larynx).
What are the symptoms of URTI?
Children develop fever which can go up to 40°C. They also may have nasal congestion, runny nose, and itchiness in the throat, sore throat and cough. They may have headache, body ache decreased appetite, lethargy and less activeness. Infants and young children may not be able to express themselves thus they remain unsettled and ‘cranky’.
Infants prefer to breathe through their nose, thus the slightest block can cause nasal congestion and thus breathing difficulty. The nasal congestion also gives rise to poor feeding. Infants tend to gag and choke as they are unable to spit out the mucus.
What causes URT?
The infection is mainly caused by viruses but can be caused by bacteria as well.
What is the treatment for URTI?
The treatment is predominantly, symptomatic. i.e., relieving fever, nasal congestion and coughing. Rest, lots of fluid, fever medication are the mainstay of treatment. A variety of decongestants and cough preparation can be used, however there is no evidence they reduce the duration of the illness. The decongestants and cough preparations are not recommended for children less than two years because of the possible side effects.
In infants and young children, congestion may be relieved somewhat by using a saline nasal spray and by suctioning the mucus from the nose with a rubber suction bulb.
As most of these infections is caused by viruses, antibiotics is not needed. The symptoms may take a week or two to clear.
How to prevent URTI?
Having good personal hygiene is the mainstay to prevent the spread. All carers of children with URTI should wash their hands after handling the child. The more intimate (hugging and sharing beds) contact the carer has with the affected child, the higher the chance for the URTI to spread among family members. Affected children should not share their toys. Their toys should be washed thoroughly after use. Children should stay at home from school and child care centres until the fever and other symptoms settle.
Children above six months can have influenza vaccination annually.