Upper Respiratory Infection: How to Treat at Home

Are you suffering from a persistent cough? Find out how to identify and manage an upper respiratory infection from the comfort of your home. You can get the relief you need without having to visit the doctor.

Quick facts: Treating Upper Respiratory Infection At Home

  • ✅Gargling with warm salt water can reduce mucus and help relieve symptoms of upper respiratory infection (source: Mayo Clinic)
  • ✅Drinking plenty of fluids can help thin the mucus, making it easier to expel (source: American Academy of Family Physicians)
  • ✅Taking over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help reduce fever and body aches caused by upper respiratory infection (source: Harvard Medical School)
  • ✅Eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of rest can help support the immune system and aid in recovery (source: WebMD)
  • ✅Inhaling steam several times a day can help provide relief from nasal congestion (source: Cleveland Clinic)

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Upper respiratory infections (URIs) are the most common infections in adults and children. URIs are caused by a variety of viruses, including the common cold virus, influenza virus, and others. Symptoms of URIs can include a sore throat, fever, runny nose, cough, sneezing, and congestion.

In most cases, URIs can be treated at home with over-the-counter medications and home remedies. It is important to note that antibiotics are not effective against viral infections like URIs and should only be prescribed if there is a bacterial infection present.

This article will provide an overview of how to treat an upper respiratory infection at home:

Symptoms of an Upper Respiratory Infection

Upper respiratory infections are very common and can be caused by a variety of viruses or bacteria. Symptoms of an upper respiratory infection typically include a sore throat, cough, congestion, and fever. Other signs and symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Body aches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty breathing

Knowing the symptoms of an infection can help you decide when to seek medical attention.


Coughing is a frequent symptom of an upper respiratory infection. It is the body’s way of attempting to clear out irritants and mucus from your nasopharynx. Coughing can range from a dry, hacking cough to a wet, productive cough that produces phlegm or mucus. It may be accompanied by wheezing and chest pain due to inflammation of your airways.

A chronic cough that persists longer than three weeks is typically not caused by an upper respiratory infection but instead may be related to asthma, chronic bronchitis, or some other underlying condition. If you are having difficulty breathing in addition to coughing, seek medical attention immediately as it could be indicative of more serious conditions such as pneumonia or COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).


Sneezing is one of the common symptoms associated with an upper respiratory infection (URI). It is typically caused by an irritation in the mucous membranes of the nose, generally from a virus such as the common cold. Sneezing is also known as sternutation.

Symptoms often include a runny nose, coughing and a feeling of congestion in the chest. Sneezing can be accompanied by other respiratory symptoms like watery eyes, a stuffy nose and hoarseness.

Treatment for sneezing may include:

  • Antihistamines to reduce sneezing.
  • Over-the-counter decongestants and cough medicines.
  • Drinking plenty of fluids to thin out mucus and stay hydrated.

Nasal congestion

Nasal congestion is one of the most obvious and common symptoms of an upper respiratory infection. It can cause difficulty with breathing through the nose, which can further lead to snoring and some lethargy. Nasal congestion is a result of inflammation in the nasal passages due to a virus or bacteria, leading to increased mucus production and swelling of the sinuses. It’s also common to experience facial pain, sore throat, and a blocked ear as well. In children, cold symptoms such as runny nose and sneezing are often mistaken for nasal congestion.

Treatment usually involves decongestant medicines or a saline solution which helps to reduce inflamed blood vessels in the nostrils and sinuses.

Sore throat

Having a sore throat is one of the most common symptoms of an upper respiratory infection. A sore throat usually occurs when the infection causes inflammation of the upper air passages, which can lead to pain or discomfort in the throat, difficulty swallowing, and dryness or scratchiness. Many people also experience a sore throat in conjunction with other cold and flu symptoms such as:

  • Congestion
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Chills
  • Fever

In some cases, a sore throat may be accompanied by swollen lymph nodes in the neck and jaw area.

Treating an upper respiratory infection at home may include taking medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain relief as well as gargling with salt water to reduce swelling and discomfort.

Causes of an Upper Respiratory Infection

An upper respiratory infection, or URI, is caused by either a virus or bacteria. The virus or bacteria can be spread through contact with an infected person, their saliva, or mucus. It can also be spread through airborne droplets when an infected person sneezes or coughs. Other causes of an upper respiratory infection include contact with animals or coming into contact with the environment, such as air pollution or smoke.

To learn more about the causes and symptoms of an upper respiratory infection, keep reading.


Upper Respiratory Infections (URIs) are the most common causes of infectious illnesses. Many different types of viruses can cause URIs, such as rhinovirus, adenovirus, coronavirus, parainfluenza virus, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

These viruses are easily spread from person-to-person through coughing and sneezing and by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus.

Most URIs are mild in nature and can be treated at home with rest, fluids, over-the-counter medication for pain relief or fever control like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and decongestants to help reduce nasal congestion.If symptoms persist or worsen a doctor should be consulted to rule out any underlying conditions or complications from the URI.


Bacteria are one of the most common causes of an upper respiratory infection (URI). The bacteria that cause URIs are often pneumococcal or streptococcal. These bacteria can be spread through sneezing, kissing, coughing, and close contact with an affected person. It is important to recognize that colds and flu are caused by viruses, while an upper respiratory infection is typically caused by bacteria.

Most cases of bacterial-caused URIs do not require antibiotics as they will improve without treatment. However, in some cases antibiotics may be necessary to prevent serious complications such as pneumonia or sinusitis.

Symptoms of a bacterial-caused URI include:

  • Fever
  • Increased mucus production from the nose and throat
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Coughing

To treat a bacterial-caused URI at home you should rest and drink plenty of fluids to keep your body hydrated and to reduce your fever. Over the counter medications such as Tylenol or ibuprofen can help reduce fever and relieve other symptoms such as sore throat or headache. If symptoms persist for more than a few days it is advisable to visit your physician for further evaluation.


Allergens are one of the primary causes of upper respiratory infections, which can be caused by dust, pollen, animal dander, and other forms of irritants. People with allergies are especially susceptible to developing an upper respiratory infection due to their heightened sensitivity and defensive immune system reaction.

In some cases, it is important to be tested for allergens such as pet dander and pollen in order to properly treat the underlying cause of the infection. Allergen exposure can lead to difficulty breathing or sore throat, sneezing fits, coughing or wheezing and watery eyes. It is important to treat allergies with a combination of antihistamines, decongestants and even steroids in order to reduce inflammation and prevent recurring infections.

Treatment at Home

Upper respiratory infections can be treated at home in order to avoid further complications and reduce discomfort. There are several steps that can be taken to reduce symptoms, speed up recovery and prevent the infection from spreading.

Here, we will discuss the home treatments that can be done to manage the symptoms of an upper respiratory infection:

Over-the-counter medications

Upper respiratory infections are a common virus that range from mild to severe. While most cases can be treated at home, some people may need medical care. Over-the-counter medications can help manage symptoms and enhance comfort levels. These include decongestants, cough suppressants, expectorants, and pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

  • Decongestants help reduce nasal swelling and congestion. Some products contain both a decongestant and an antihistamine, which can help reduce both the nasal swelling and allergies related to the infection.
  • Cough suppressants help reduce coughing fits and make it easier to rest.
  • Expectorants work by loosening mucus in the lungs so that it is easier to cough up.
  • Pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help ease any inflammation or discomfort caused by the infection, such as throat pain or headaches.

Rest and fluids

When suffering from an upper respiratory infection, the most important things to do are rest and drink plenty of fluids. Rest will aid in the healing process and help your body fight off any infection. Doctors recommend getting plenty of sleep, avoiding strenuous activities, and taking a break from work or school if necessary.

Additionally, it’s important to stay hydrated. Water helps flush out toxins while also keeping mucus thin which can help with congestion. Other fluids such as herbal tea, broth-based soups, and electrolyte beverages like Pedialyte can all aid in rehydration as well. Drinking fluids will loosen up secretions allowing them to drain better from the nose or sinuses. Avoiding beverages with caffeine is advised as these can be dehydrating for those suffering from an upper respiratory infection.


It is important to keep the air in your home moist if you or a family member has an upper respiratory infection. Dry air can be irritating and make symptoms worse. A humidifier can help add moisture back into the air. There are both warm and cold-air humidifiers available for purchase. The type of humidifier you use will depend on your personal preference, as well as how severe your symptoms are.

Using a humidifier can help relieve congestion, coughing, sore throat, and sinus pain by thinning mucus in the airways and allowing them to expel more easily. In addition to using a humidifier, it is also important to keep your nose clear by regularly rinsing with saline solution or using a nasal spray such as Afrin or Flonase.

Steam inhalation

Steam Inhalation, also known as steam therapy, is a route of administration used to help treat upper respiratory infections (URIs) at home. Steam inhalation increases the humidity in the air that is breathed and reduces the symptoms of sore throat, nasal congestion and sinus irritation caused by URIs. This method can also help moisten and thin mucus, allowing it to be coughed up and expelled more easily.

You can create a steamroom for therapeutic effects with items found at home:

  • boiling water (in a pot or electric kettle)
  • a bowl or large mug to hold it in
  • a towel to cover your head while inhaling the vapors

Steam inhalation should be done for 10-15 minutes at least 3 times daily or as needed during flare-ups for best results. Alternatively, you can fill the bathroom shower with hot water and turn off the fan before taking a near-scalding shower to create your own steamroom if needed.

When to See a Doctor

If you have an upper respiratory infection, it’s important to take the necessary steps to manage your symptoms at home. Even if your symptoms improve, however, there may be times when you need to see a doctor.

In this article, we will go over when to see a doctor for an upper respiratory infection and how to make sure you get the treatment you need:

High fever

A high fever, defined as a body temperature over 101°F, is a sign that your upper respiratory infection may require medical attention. While a fever can be treated at home with rest, fluids and over-the-counter medicines like ibuprofen and acetaminophen, it could also be indicative of a more serious underlying illness like the flu or pneumonia.

If you are experiencing other concerning symptoms such as coughing up green or yellow mucus or shortness of breath with activity, it’s important to seek medical care right away. Additionally, if your fever lasts for more than 4 days despite at-home care, you should consult a doctor. It is recommended to call your doctor if you begin having difficulty breathing; are wheezing; notice that your lips or face look blue; have chest pain or feel short of breath with activity; become confused; have severe sore throat; vomit repeatedly throughout the day; experience abdominal pain that persists for more than 24 hours; develop severe sinus pain – even if your fever is not high.

Difficulty breathing

If you or someone you know is experiencing difficulty breathing, this could be a sign of a more serious medical condition such as pneumonia or asthma. If you notice any of the following signs, please seek medical attention right away:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Inability to take deep breaths

These are all signs that you need to be evaluated by a healthcare provider as soon as possible, and they can determine the best course of treatment to alleviate any symptoms. Additionally, if someone is experiencing chest pain or tightness, they should seek medical attention immediately. Remember, it is always better to err on the side of caution and head in for evaluation sooner rather than later!

Persistent coughing

Persistent coughing is one sign of an upper respiratory infection that may require a doctor’s visit. If the cough persists for more than a week, or if it gets worse, it is time to treat a sinus infection. Additionally, a hallmark of an upper respiratory infection (URI) is the presence of an associated fever. If your child has a temperature over 101 F (38 C), then contact your doctor right away.

Other indications that it is time to see your doctor include:

  • Severe chest pain and/or difficulty breathing
  • Yellow or green mucus (this indicates the presence of a bacterial infection)
  • Symptoms persist longer than ten days without improvement

It is also important to remember that some individuals are at higher risk for complications from URI such as infants and older adults, so medical care should be sought if these individuals show signs of illness.

Severe pain in the throat

If you are experiencing severe pain in your throat, you should immediately seek medical attention. Severe pain in the throat can be a symptom of an upper respiratory infection, such as a cold or the flu. It can also be caused by strep throat, an infection of the tonsils that is caused by bacteria. Depending on the cause, treatment will vary and may require antibiotics or other medications.

When your throat is extremely painful, it is difficult to eat and drink which can cause dehydration; this is especially true for young children or elderly adults who are already more susceptible to dehydration because they have weaker immune systems. If you suspect that there is an infection present or if your symptoms do not improve over time, then it’s important to contact a doctor right away for diagnosis and treatment recommendations.


Upper Respiratory Infections (URIs) are a common and highly contagious illness, especially in children. Thankfully, they can generally be managed at home and do not require medical treatment.

To help treat a URI, individuals should:

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Drink lots of fluids to increase hydration and soothe the throat and nasal passages
  • Use saline nose drops or sprays to clear mucus from the nose
  • Suck on lozenges or hard candies to soothe throat irritation
  • Utilize a cool-mist room humidifier to help ease congestion
  • Use over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen to reduce fever or facial pain

It is important to note that antibiotics will not help treat URIs since they are caused by viruses.

By following the tips outlined above, you can effectively manage your own or your child’s symptoms of a URI at home without requiring any medical treatment. Remember though that if symptoms become severe, it is best to consult with your doctor for further advice.

FAQs about: Treating Upper Respiratory Infection At Home

Q1: How can I treat an upper respiratory infection at home?

A1: Depending on the symptoms, some home treatments for upper respiratory infections include rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen to reduce fever. A cool-mist humidifier can help to ease congestion.

Q2: How can I avoid getting an upper respiratory infection?

A2: Healthy habits like washing your hands regularly, avoiding close contact with people who are sick, and avoiding touching your face with your hands can help reduce your chances of getting an upper respiratory infection.

Q3: How can I tell if my upper respiratory infection is getting worse?

A3: If your symptoms are getting worse or lasting longer than a week, you should contact your doctor. Additional signs of a worsening upper respiratory infection include difficulty breathing, chest pain, persistent coughing, and a high fever.

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