Respiratory infections – causes and treatment
Respiratory infections are one of the most common diseases caught by adults and children again and again. They are often harmless, but sometimes repeated or persistent respiratory infections may be the sign of a more serious illness. It is therefore recommended that clarification from a doctor be sought.
What are respiratory infections?
In general, respiratory infections, which are caused by viruses or bacteria, are referred to as colds. Here, we differentiate between
upper respiratory infections, such as
- sore throat
lower respiratory infections, such as
- bronchitis and
- airway infections
Respiratory infections mainly occur during fall and winter. Humid, cold weather, dry heated air and general ill health mean that we are more susceptible.
What are the causes of acute respiratory infections?
Most respiratory infections are caused by viruses. . Secondary infection (“superinfection”) by bacteria is rather rare. Respiratory infections are transmitted via
- smear infections or
- droplet infections (more frequently)
If you do not hold your hand – or better: your sleeve – in front of your mouth when coughing or sneezing, you increase the risk of infection for people around you.
What are the symptoms of respiratory infections?
Typical respiratory infections, such as colds, often develop over several days. The following symptoms may occur
- Abnormal fatigue
- A sore, painful throat
- A blocked and/ or runny nose
- A Headache
- A slight temperature
Especially coughing is a very unpleasant symptom. Coughing is a jerky ejection of air from the airways by contraction of the respiratory muscles. Coughing serves to remove foreign bodies, pathogens, toxins and mucus generated as a consequence of the infection from the respiratory tract. It is therefore an important self-cleansing and defence mechanism of the airways and should not be suppressed. A distinction is made between productive coughing (with mucus) and unproductive coughing (without mucus).
The symptoms may, depending on the seriousness of the infection and the condition of the immune system, occur individually or consecutively. It is very rare that they all occur at the same time. These so-called influenza infections are often self-limiting and cease after about 10 days.
A real flu or influenza is more serious. It starts suddenly, with a high temperature, a sore throat or a dry cough, as well as sore muscles and joints, and back pain or a headache. The person suffering from the infection often feels weak. Often, there may be additional symptoms, such as breaking out in sweat, trouble breathing and sometimes nausea and diarrhea.
How can respiratory infections be diagnosed?
The diagnosis of a respiratory infection is often made by the persons affected themselves. But if the symptoms come on suddenly, and if the general wellbeing is seriously affected, it is advisable to consult a doctor.
The doctor normally diagnoses respiratory infections by means of
- asking questions about the symptoms
- monitoring the lung for a short period of time
- briefly looking into the mouth and ears
The examination of lungs, throat and ears is carried out in order to establish the exact spreading of the infection and indicates, whether a longer and more serious course of illness is to be expected or not.
How can respiratory infections be treated?
In case of especially severe symptoms, plant preparations are usually prescribed, which are meant to loosen the secretion and which may help you to sleep better.
- Primrose root
are common substances in tees, juices and drops.
Sometimes it makes sense to treat the chest and back with essential oils.
As many respiratory infections are caused by viruses, antibiotics do not work. Only in case of an additional bacterial respiratory infection should antibiotics be prescribed.
You can also do the following:
- Make sure you drink a sufficient amount (1–2 litres per day). In this way, you support liquefaction of the mucus in the respiratory tract.
- Do not smoke (actively or passively).
- Ensure a sufficiently high level of humidity in heated rooms: Ventilate regularly and place a bowl of water on the heater.
- Mucolytic drugs help to liquefy the viscous mucus, allowing it to be coughed up more easily.
- Essential oils such as eucalyptus oil, lavender oil, thyme oil or peppermint oil have an expectorant and antibacterial effect. Get appropriate capsules from your pharmacy.
- Inhalations or steam baths with sea salt or herbal infusions (e.g. camomile or peppermint tea) moisten the airways. This supports removal of the mucus.
How can respiratory infections be prevented?
It is not possible to prevent respiratory infections completely. You may, however, minimize the risk of infection and the risk of a serious course of such an infection.
Everyday hygiene plays an important role in this respect, such as
- washing your hands on a regular basis
- trying not to touch your face, especially in public
- regularly cleaning objects, which are often touched in the workplace and at home (such as door handles, keyboards, phones, remote controls…)
In order to avoid a transmission, you should only utilize your own eating, drinking and washing utensils, and keep at least one meter distance between you and infected persons.
General measures in order to strengthen the immune system will ensure that any respiratory infections might not take such a severe course. You can strengthen the immune system by
- regularly going outside
- eating a healthy and balanced diet
- ensuring you sleep enough
This text is intended for your general information. Please do not make your own diagnosis, but consult a doctor if you have any questions or complaints. Only a doctor can, based on his/her clinical experience, correctly assess the symptoms and, if necessary, take further diagnostic steps.