What Is a Respiratory Infection?

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Getting sick is a cumbersome experience. Who has time to be ill or even bedridden with such a busy schedule? When you catch a cold or flu, it's usually considered a respiratory infection – something that attacks the respiratory tract. Often caused by a virus, it can last from seven to 10 days and produce onset symptoms that begin between one and three days after exposure to bacteria.

Prevention Starts at the Mouth

Most lung problems can be staved off with just a little more care in your daily routine – particularly when it involves your mouth. For example, try to have tissues on hand when you cough or sneeze, and wash your hands (or use hand sanitizer) after blowing your nose. Keep your hands away from your nose and mouth if these tasks become frequent, and avoid close contact with others for the first few days.

In addition, use disposable cups and paper towels in bathrooms. Avoid sharing food, drink or utensils with others – especially children – and eat fruits that are high in vitamin C. Drink lots of liquids as well, such as water and tea. Respiratory illnesses can be dehydrating, and these fluids keep your mouth moist so no bacteria causes further infection that starts in the teeth and gums.

And of course, get plenty of rest.

Respiratory Infection Symptoms

Respiratory infections can manifest in many common ways. These include:

  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Running nose
  • Stuffy head.
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Watery eyes

How It's Transferred

Often, respiratory infections are contagious and can spread from one person to the next by inhaling respiratory droplets from someone's cough or sneeze. The transmission can also occur by touching the nose, mouth or any other object that may have been exposed to its germs. The virus can even be transmitted by just talking to someone. Nonetheless, the virus is most often spread through hand-to-hand contact, so it's imperative to wash your hands frequently. This is fundamental to prevent spreading or catching a respiratory infection.

What (and Who) It Affects

The upper respiratory tract includes the sinuses, nasal passages, pharynx and larynx. For this reason, a respiratory infection comes under the blanket of many other ailments, such as the cold, flu, sinusitis, pharyngitis or laryngitis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 5 and 20 percent of the U.S. population comes down with the flu each year. Kids, by far, contract the most colds – anywhere from two to six a year. Adults fare somewhat better, as they come down with one to three colds annually.

Treating It with Oral Care

You can find the most relief in rest, fluids or over-the-counter cold medications – all of which can help alleviate the virus's effect on the health of your mouth as well. In some cases, bacterial complications can develop, but they can be treated with antibiotic prescriptions. Consider taking products such acetaminophen, throat lozenges, nose spray or an antihistamine to help alleviate some of its symptoms in the short term. Using a humidifier, however, keeps the air moist and helps curb nasal stuffiness and a dry mouth. Make sure you're eating a nutritious diet as well. Oral health ties into your general well-being, and by using products such as Colgate Total® Clean Mint toothpaste, you can keep your teeth free of the germs that infect your lungs down the line. Remember to always replace your toothbrush with a new one after an illness, too.

Combined, these factors can help keep you healthy and shorten an uncomfortable bout of respiratory infection.

About the author: Diana Tosuni-O'Neill is a licensed registered dental hygienist in New York and New Jersey with over 25 years of clinical experience in dental hygiene practice. She was employed for over 15 years with the team dentist for the sports teams the New York Giants, the Brooklyn Nets and the New Jersey Devils. Diana is also an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and a Group Fitness Instructor. Her passion for the dental and fitness fields spans over two decades. She is also a freelance writer specializing in oral health care. She enjoys traveling, gardening, decorating and her fitness workouts. Diana presently resides outside Manhattan with her two children.