Viral respiratory infections

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Winter is truly upon us and along with the temperatures dropping, viruses too have begun to attack with fury. With most people around you sniffling and coughing, here are some tips to protect yourself from respiratory infections this winter.

viral respiratory infection

Winter is here, and as the weather changes, our respiratory tract comes in the line of fire. In India, the lack of prompt treatment is the cause for a majority of child deaths, especially due to pneumonia. Most respiratory illnesses of the nose, throat, windpipe and lungs are caused by viruses. Measles, rubella (German measles) and mumps are some of the specific viral infections seen in children.

A general classification of respiratory infections: 

  1. Upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) like common cold, pharyngitis (throat infection) and otitis (ear infection).
  2. Lower respiratory tract infections (LRTI) like laryngitis, bronchitis (inflammation of the bronchi) and pneumonia.

Symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections:

  • URTI is characterised by nasal congestion like a runny nose, blocked nose and nasal discharge.
  • If the throat is affected, one might experience a scratchy sensation and cough with or without phlegm.
  • Change in voice and difficulty in swallowing is also seen.
  • One might also have fever, weakness and body pain.
  • Earache, a mild deafness or ear discharge may also occur if the ear is involved.

Symptoms of lower respiratory tract infections:

  • Cough with or without phlegm
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Fever and body ache.
  • In case of pneumonia the phlegm will be greenish.

Viruses - a cause of respiratory infections:

i) Viruses in general attack us when our immunity is low -- due to poor nutrition, consumption of alcohol, smoking and lack of sleep.

Tips to improve immunity

ii) Once they enter the body, viruses multiply in favourable conditions. This leads to an acute attack.

iii) The white blood cells (WBCs), in particular circulating in the blood, fight back and then symptoms may subside.

iv) Sometimes the virus overpowers the human defences leading to a prolonged attack or chronic illness.

Precautions to take in case of viral infections:

  • Stay warm: If the temperature is low, dress warm. Cover ears, feet and limbs fully.
  • Heat therapy: Steam inhalation soothes the respiratory tract and opens up the congested air passages. Take at least twice a day.
  • Hot water gargles, to which salt is added relieve throat pain. As an alternative, one can try an over-the-counter antiseptic gargle solution.
  • Take supplements: Vitamin C is said to shorten an attack and is safe to take for short-term use. Zinc tablets also reduce the severity. Consult your doctor before taking and ask about appropriate dose.
  • Put your feet up: There was never a better time to relax. Take more sleep and rest than usual to help your body fight back. De-stress by listening to music, watching a pleasant TV show or chatting with a friend.
  • Rehydrate: Colds and fevers dehydrate you, so remember to include fluids like herbal teas, soups, buttermilk, coconut water and fruit and vegetable juices in your diet. Avoid excessively sweet drinks. Plenty of water is advised.
  • Aspirin or paracetamol should be taken in recommended doses. If you are below 21 years of age, avoid aspirin.

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