What are the Most Common Symptoms of an Upper Respiratory Infection?

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  • Written By: Amanda Livingstone
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2019
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Those suffering from an upper respiratory infection may experience mild to severe symptoms. Depending on the type of infection and the underlying cause, the specific symptoms can vary. The most common symptoms of an upper respiratory infection generally include coughing, sore throat, sneezing, nasal congestion and discharge.

Both bacteria and viruses can cause an infection to develop in the upper respiratory tract, which includes the sinuses, nasal cavity, pharynx and larynx. Over 200 different viruses and bacteria have been implicated in the formation of upper respiratory infections. The rhinovirus — which causes the common cold — is one of the most typical sources of upper respiratory infections. Cold symptoms generally include coughing, sneezing, sore throat, and congestion.

Other viruses that cause upper respiratory infections include adenovirus, enterovirus and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Bacteria that cause symptoms of an upper respiratory infection are streptococcus, anaerobic and gram negative bacteria. Specific manifestations of infections from both bacterial and viral sources include pharyngitis, laryngitis, epiglottitis, tracheitis, rhinitis, and sinusitis.

Pharyngitis is an inflammation of the back of the throat, and is often caused by streptococcus. The main symptoms of pharyngitis are a sore throat, accompanied by fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes, and joint pain. Laryngitis is similar to pharyngitis, except that the swelling and irritation occur in the voice box, leading to hoarseness and temporary loss of voice.


Epiglottitis is characterized by the swelling of the epiglottis, which is located between the base of the tongue and the trachea. Fever, hoarseness and difficult swallowing are symptoms associated with epiglottitis. Tracheitis — or inflammation of the trachea — generally produces a deep cough with fever, headache and dizziness. While the trachea is classified as a lower respiratory structure, tracheitis is considered to be an acute upper respiratory infection by most in the medical community.

Rhinitis and sinusitis are infections manifesting in the nasal area and sinuses. Both conditions can be attributed to allergic and non-allergic causes. Post nasal drip, stuffy nose and inflammation inside the nose are the most common symptoms of rhinitis. Sinusitis is the inflammation of the paranasal sinuses, which are located in the facial and cranial areas. Headache and nasal discharge are two of the most common symptoms of sinusitis.

If the cause of an upper respiratory tract infection is bacterial, symptoms are generally treated with antibiotics. Symptoms caused by viral infections unfortunately do not respond to antibiotics. Decongestants are often used to relieve congestion and nasal symptoms of an upper respiratory infection.


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