Upper respiratory tract infections include colds, flu, laryngitis (an infection of the voice box), tonsillitis, and sinusitis (sinus infection). The most common symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections include cough, sore throat, a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
While the flu can also affect the lower respiratory tract, other lower tract infections include bronchitis (infection of the airways), pneumonia (lung infection), and tuberculosis, a more serious bacterial infection of the lungs. The most common symptoms of lower respiratory tract infections include coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, fever, and chest tightness.
Most upper respiratory infections are caused by self-limited viral infections, while some may be caused by bacterial infections. Most often, an upper respiratory infection is contagious and can spread from one person to another by inhaling airborne particles from coughs or sneezes. It can also be transmitted by touching the nose or mouth with a hand or other objects exposed to the virus.
Antibiotics are sometimes used to treat bacterial respiratory infections such as pneumonia, strep throat, bacterial sinusitis, or tuberculosis. Other respiratory infections can be treated with over-the-counter medications including decongestants, cough remedies, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen.