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Symptoms of respiratory tract infections

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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Upper respiratory tract infection

A cough is the most common symptom of an upper respiratory tract infection. Other symptoms include:

  • headaches
  • stuffed or runny nose
  • sore throat
  • sneezing
  • muscle aches and pain

The symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection usually pass within one to two weeks.

Lower respiratory tract infections

As with an upper respiratory tract infection, the main symptom of a lower respiratory tract infection is a cough, although it is usually more severe and more productive (bringing up phlegm and mucus). Sometimes the mucus is blood-stained.

Other symptoms of a lower respiratory tract infection include:

  • a tight feeling in your chest
  • breathlessness
  • wheezing
  • sore throat
  • fever and chills
  • headaches
  • blocked nose and sinuses
  • aches and pains

When to seek medical advice

Most respiratory tract infections do not require medical attention and can be treated at home.

However, it is recommended that you visit your GP if:

  • Your symptoms suggest that you may have pneumonia, such as coughing up bloody mucus and phlegm.
  • You are feeling very unwell.
  • You have a pre-existing heart, lung, liver, or kidney condition.
  • You have a condition that affects your nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis.
  • You have cystic fibrosis.
  • You have a weakened immune system.

It is also recommend that you visit your GP if you are 65 or over and have at least two of the factors listed below, or you are 80 or over and have one of the factors listed below:

  • You have been admitted to hospital at some time during the past year.
  • You have type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
  • You have a history of heart failure.
  • You are taking a type of steroid medication called glucocorticoid.
An ache is a constant dull pain in a part of the body.
A high temperature, also known as a fever, is when someone's body temperature goes above the normal 37C (98.6F).
Pain is an unpleasant physical or emotional feeling that your body produces as a warning sign that it has been damaged.
Inflammation is the body's response to infection, irritation or injury, which causes redness, swelling, pain and sometimes a feeling of heat in the affected area.
Medical Review: July 07, 2009

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