It comes on quickly, without warning, and before you know it you have an upper respiratory infection.

You may not even know how it happened. But the associated sneezing, coughing, fever, and runny nose are symptoms you know all too well.

The more you learn, the better equipped you’ll be. If not managed, an upper respiratory infection may cause missed work or school days, or it may lead to a more severe illness.

Let’s start by discussing what exactly an upper respiratory infection is.

The Basics: What to know about upper respiratory infections

Viruses cause upper respiratory infections more often than not. They come on quickly and usually without prior illness. They appear in the form of an ear infection, pharyngitis (a sore throat), or the common cold.

You’ll find it’s more common in the fall, typically due to the increase of indoor activity, though some viruses thrive in the low humidity of winter.

There are two ways you catch an upper respiratory infection: direct and indirect.

  • Direct transmission happens when you contact someone else’s germs who may have just sneezed or coughed.
  • Indirect transmission refers to touching door knobs, cabinet handles, and other surface areas that were previously touched by someone already infected.

Most treatments of upper respiratory infections include home rest and hydration, though hospitalization may be required in extreme cases.

Essential tips for not getting infected

Follow these rules for not getting infected and you may avoid getting a cold, respiratory infection or another sickness this season:

  1. Hands off: Your nose, mouth, and eyes are the primary entry points for infection so make a habit of not touching them until you have first washed your hands. This is especially true during the fall and winter months when colds are at their all-time high.
  2. Recognize touchpoints: Doors, handles, buttons, keyboards, and screens (ATMs) are commonly-shared touchpoints that increase the odds of viral transfer. If you can’t avoid direct contact be sure to wash your hands ASAP.
  3. Wash hands routinely: Make a habit of washing your hands thoroughly on a routine basis, and after contact with any surface that may concern you. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  4. Eat healthy: Following a healthy diet is always recommended, but especially during the cold and flu seasons when having a strong immune system is important.
  5. Stop smoking: Smoking cessation is also an immune builder that’ll have additional positive effects on your overall health.
  6. Avoid sick people: This one’s a no-brainer… reduce contact with people who may have the infection. Know you can spread the virus a few days before symptoms even occur.
  7. Keep your surroundings clean: Make cleaning your environment a priority, especially if you have kids. This includes wiping down all shared surfaces like refrigerators, stair railings, toys, and doorknobs.
  8. Do your part: If you’re infected please make a point to not spread the virus. Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and be aware of common touchpoints you may be contacting.

Let’s recap

Upper respiratory infections are most commonly caused by viruses and transferred by either direct contact or indirect contact, like through airborne germs. The common cold, ear infection, or a sore throat are the most common forms.

Making good habits, especially during cold and flu seasons, is the best way to avoid getting affected. Become aware of your touchpoints and wash your hands, and you’ll stay healthier and happier.