Colds and Upper Respiratory Infections
An upper respiratory infection is an infection that occurs in your upper respiratory tract (which includes your nose, sinuses, and throat). Although it’s usually thought of as a common cold or a head cold, upper respiratory infections can also include strep throat, sinus infections, or tonsilitis.
Colds often last for 7-10 days and usually resolve on their own without medical intervention. However, some colds can lead to secondary infections such as ear infections, sinus infections, bronchitis, or pneumonia.
Symptoms of colds and upper respiratory infections
Most upper respiratory infections are caused by viruses. In fact, there are over 200 viruses that can cause a cold or upper respiratory infection.
Symptoms of a cold or upper respiratory infection include:
- Sore or scratchy throat
- Runny nose
- Muscle or body aches
When to go to urgent care for an upper respiratory infection
Because colds have so many symptoms in common with Covid-19, you should get a Covid test when you have one or more of these symptoms, regardless of your vaccination status. MedHelp Clinics are testing for Covid-19 seven days a week. If you test positive for Covid-19, treatment options are available.
For patients who do not test positive for Covid-19, most symptoms will resolve on their own within a week or so. However, if your symptoms begin to resolve but then get worse (such as a new fever or a painful cough that gets worse after first getting better), it’s time to see an urgent care doctor. You should also see your doctor if your cold symptoms last for more than ten days. In either case, it’s possible that you’re experiencing a secondary infection that needs treatment.
What your urgent care doctor can do for upper respiratory infections
Your urgent care doctor will ask you about the duration and severity of your symptoms. You should also let your doctor know any over-the-counter medications you’ve taken. After a physical exam, your urgent care doctor will attempt to determine whether you have any secondary infections, such as an ear infection, sinusitis, or bronchitis. Depending on your symptoms, your urgent care doctor may order a chest x-ray or blood work. Treatment for your illness will depend on whether or not you have a secondary infection.
Since most colds and upper respiratory infections are caused by viruses, your urgent care doctor can’t cure you. Antibiotics are ineffective at treating viral infections. Your doctor may offer support for severe symptoms, such as anti-inflammatories or steroid injections if no secondary infection is found.
What you can do for your upper respiratory infection
As with any illness, you should drink plenty of clear fluids and get as much rest as you can. If you have Covid-19, we recommend following a home treatment protocol to reduce the severity and duration of your symptoms. For other colds, MedHelp founder and Dr. Michael Vaughn suggests several supportive treatments including supplements and over-the-counter medications.