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Respiratory infection : Overview, Definition, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Therapy, Course And Prevention

Friday, October 26th 2012. | Condition A-Z
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The respiratory infection is the most common human diseases. Mostly it is an infection of the upper respiratory tract (nose, sinuses, pharynx and larynx), a rare infection of the lower respiratory tract (trachea and bronchi ).

Especially the airways (consisting of oral cavity, nasal cavity, paranasal sinuses, pharynx, larynx, trachea, and lungs ) are asopen system exposed to environmental influences, particularly: Thus, for example dust, smoke, fumes, bacteria , viruses and fungi penetrate easily. Normally, the body is in front of a respiratory infection protected:

  • The immune system can kill eliminate bacteria, viruses and fungi.
  • The mucous membranes with which the airways are lined catch on the smallest particles and transport them via cilia or by coughing or swallowing mucus from the body.

This defense, however, including by previous infections or environmental stress weakened be – the eventual result is a respiratory infection. Respiratory infections and the direct consequences range from a simple cold on acute bronchitis up to otitis , sinusitis and tonsillitis . Accordingly, the costs associated with a respiratory infection symptoms vary greatly.

A respiratory infection can also acute (sudden and violent) or chronic (long or permanently) run. Acute respiratory infections can usually be treated well or heal itself after a while. Chronic respiratory infections, however, are often incurable and require a lifetime concomitant medical treatment.

To a respiratory infection, if possible prevent , next are vaccinations against influenza and pneumococcal disease following measures recommended:

  • Healthy and with enough vitamins and trace elements to feed , move , sufficient sleep and provide fresh air.
  • Stress and pollution avoid possible.
  • Not smoking.
  • Infections and allergies that affect the nose and throat (eg hay fever ) adequately treat.
Respiratory Infection Respiratory infection :  Overview, Definition, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Therapy, Course And Prevention

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A respiratory infection is by pathogens caused respiratory diseaseDepending on the affected area is divided respiratory infections as follows:

  • Infection of the upper respiratory tract: Here are nose, sinuses, throat, and / or larynx affected by respiratory infection.
  • Infection of the lower respiratory tract: Here, trachea and bronchi may be affected. Such respiratory infections, although rare, symptoms and course but are usually more serious than in infections of the upper respiratory tract.

The respiratory infection often occurs alone, but together with other infections on. For example, is the acute bronchitis is often an underlying condition of whooping cough or measles . And as a result of an infection of the upper airways, for example, a middle ear infection occur. In addition, a respiratory infection, such as a chronic bronchitis pass into other respiratory tract infections, such as in a pulmonary emphysema or chronic obstructive bronchitis .


Hardly any human disease is more common than acute respiratory infection. With the greatest frequency of these are to treat infections of the upper respiratory tract. In general, acute respiratory infections treatable or heal after some time by yourself.


A respiratory infection can cause several have: In addition to the many pathogens that can cause disease of the upper or lower airways play, often additionally favorable factors play an important role.

The respiratory infection is a major cause of human disease, because: The respiratory tract (oral cavity, nasal cavity, paranasal sinuses, pharynx, larynx, trachea, and lungs ) form an open system, the environmental factors (such as dust, smoke, fumes, bacteria , viruses and fungi ) particular exposure. Usually the body is through the immune system and mucous membranes against respiratory infections protected: The immune system can kill eliminate pathogens and while displaying said mucous membranes with which the airways are lined, also collect the smallest particles and from about cilia or by coughing or swallowing of mucus which body remove. Under certain circumstances, however, this protection may be reduced to be – then have an easy time of pathogens and can cause an infection of the respiratory tract. For a respiratory infection as possible causes are as follows favorable circumstances being:

  • Previous infections
  • Physical exhaustion
  • Stress
  • Allergic disorders of the nose and pharynx
  • Smoking
  • Pollution

Alone, the cooling of the body – for example, at low temperatures – but caused no respiratory infection.


For a respiratory infection occur as causes various pathogensinto question. The most common are infections of the upper respiratory tract, which is often referred to as cold summarizes. Colds caused mainly by viruses , less often by bacteria . In the course of a virus-induced cold can, however, because the immune system is weakened, additionally develop a bacterial infection (not only the respiratory tract). Common triggers of colds include the following pathogens:

  • Rhinoviruses ( rhino = nose)
  • Influenza viruses
  • Parainfluenza viruses are particularly dangerous because they can attack the lower respiratory tract

Those responsible for the respiratory pathogens can spread and thus more infections of the respiratory tract or other infections: For example, a infection of the upper respiratory tract, the cause of an ear infection be, while a chronic bronchitis , for example, into an emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can pass.

For respiratory infections of the bronchial tubes and sinuses primarily bacteria are responsible. Also, as part of a respiratory infection occurring ear infections often have their origins in bacteria. Especially when the defenses are weakened in the run, the bacterial pathogens have a good chance to multiply in the body.


A respiratory infection, the various symptoms cause – depending on which areas of the respiratory tract affected: In general, when an infection of the upper respiratory tract (nose, sinuses, pharynx and larynx) symptoms and course usually lighter than the rare infection of the lower respiratory tract (trachea and bronchi ).

In addition, respiratory infections often occur alone, but together with other infections on: So it can in an infection of the upper respiratory tract (usually with a cold ), for example, to a middle ear infection with appropriate signs (such as ear pain , dizziness , fever ) can occur. Also may progress and cause a respiratory infection later in new symptoms: For example, achronic bronchitis in an emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary bypass.

Acute respiratory infection

A respiratory infection may be characterized by sudden (acute) symptoms. Such an acute respiratory infection is usually treatable or heals after a while even by itself. The typical signs of acute infections of the upper and lower respiratory tract and its potential consequences are:

Disease Symptoms Trigger
Upper respiratory tract
Rhinitis(rhinitis) runny nose, sneezing, headache , disabled breathing through the nose Viruses
Sinus inflammation(sinusitis) Spontaneous pain and pressure and pain on percussion at the forehead and cheeks, headache, fever , runny nose, purulent discharge from nose Bacteria , often as a result of a cold, rare viruses or fungi
Middle ear infection(otitis media) Feeling of pressure and pain in the ear, impaired hearing, high fever mainly bacteria: Streptococcus pneumoniae , Haemophilus influenzae ,Staphylococcus aureus
Sore throat(pharyngitis) Scratchy throat and dry feeling, pain swallowing Bacteria, viruses
Tonsillitis(tonsillitis) Redness and swelling of the tonsils,difficulty swallowing , purulent coating, swollen lymph nodes, fever, headache Bacteria: Streptococcus pyogenes
Laryngitis(laryngitis) Hoarseness , cough , sore throat Viruses, bacteria, smoke , allergies , diseases of the esophagus, overusing the voice (singing)
lower respiratory tract
Acute Bronchitis inflamed bronchial mucosa, fever, cough, body aches , burning eyes, runny nose, hoarseness often mainly viruses (90%); rare: primarily as an accompanying symptom of bacterialpertussis bacteria or secondary to viral infection (eg, measles )
Pneumonia(pneumonia) inflamed lung tissue, cough, sputum, chest pain , breathing difficulties , fever ,chills Bacteria: Streptococcus pneumoniae ,Haemophilus influenzae , Moraxella catarrhalis , Staphylococcus aureus , rare viruses, parasites or fungi
Acutepulmonary emphysema Pulmonary emphysema may regress Narrowing of small bronchi in asthma attack

Chronic respiratory infection

A respiratory infection can also be recurring (or recurrent) or long existing symptoms to be identified. Such a chronic respiratory infection, for example, the chronic bronchitis or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonar disease = chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). The latter includes several diseases that show similar symptoms:

  • Chronic obstructive bronchitis
  • Chronic pulmonary emphysema
  • Chronic bronchitis with asthmatic component

For a chronic respiratory infection following symptoms are typical:

Disease Symptoms Trigger
Asthma swollen bronchial mucous membrane, seizures of a few minutes to several days long, cough , shortness of breath , may subsequently an emphysema form Allergies , pollution,viruses , drugs , special burdens
chronicpulmonary emphysema Pulmonary emphysema, reduced performance, dyspnea, cough, sputum , chest puffed often barrel-shaped Smoking , chronic andchronic obstructive pulmonary disease , pollution
chronic bronchitis bronchial inflammation, cough, pain in the lower sternum, fever, sputum, expressed in periodic bouts bronchitis; curable in early stages Smoking, pollution
chronic obstructive bronchitis such as chronic bronchitis, chronic addition of respiratory discomfort, not curable Smoking, pollution, pulmonary tuberculosis,cancer


On suspicion of a respiratory infection, the first step to diagnosis is to ask the person concerned to the existing complaints and medical history (known history ), and to examine them physically.During the physical examination , the doctor hears the lungs and bronchi from. He usually also controls the ears , mouth, nose and throat as well as the lymph nodes in the neck.

In order to discern whether viruses or bacteria are responsible for the respiratory infection, belongs to diagnose a blood test : Your purpose is the blood to various signs of inflammation such as theerythrocyte sedimentation rate and the concentration of white blood cells to check out. A bacterial infection of the respiratory tract can also in the laboratory by examining a sample of mucus (from expectorated mucus) or a smear diagnosis of throat and nasal mucosa: There it is possible to identify the bacterial pathogen.

Depending on how the respiratory infection expresses exactly and how long the symptoms already exist, an x-ray examination of the lungs for the diagnosis may be advisable. Only in rare cases is an additional bronchoscopy (bronchoscopy) or computed tomography (CT) is necessary.


In the therapy of respiratory infection depends on whether an infection of the upper or lower respiratory tract is present, whether it acute or chronic runs and which pathogens have caused the respiratory infection.

Non-pharmacological treatment

If your respiratory infection upper respiratory concerns and uncomplicated runs or if you have a through virus induced acute bronchitis have a is non-drug therapy usually enoughOften the symptoms disappear after a certain time, even on its own. Treatment with antibiotics is not necessary.

To relieve the symptoms of your respiratory infection and to speed healing, as a non-pharmacological treatment options are the following question:

  • Steam inhalation
  • Hot drinks
  • Neck, chest and neck wrap
  • Local heat
  • Adequate supply of vitamins and trace elements

Drug therapy

With a respiratory infection, a medical therapy can help if you have the symptoms of the infection quickly relieve want. Then, different drugs are used:

  • Nasal spray for example tramazoline or azelastine for decongesting the mucosa – this however, you should use only limited to the mucosa not to cause permanent damage,
  • Acetylsalicylic acid , paracetamol or similar to fever ,
  • Antitussive agents such as dextromethorphan or bromhexine , but also preparations with plantain , thyme or ivy extract ,
  • Bronchodilator drugs with respiratory problems such as beclomethasone, theophylline or drugs with ivy extract.

If bacteria are responsible for your respiratory infection, to provide antibiotics as drug therapy. Against viruses such antibiotic treatment is however not effective.

Chronic respiratory infections

Runs your chronic respiratory infection, therapy lengthy be. Chronic respiratory infections usually get better already when their triggers – such as cigarette smoke - avoid. Addition to bronchodilator drugs are used. Chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, however, are not curable and might require a lifetime concomitant treatment with drugs to at least alleviate the symptoms.


A respiratory infection may have a acute (sudden onset and severe) or chronic use (lengthy or permanent) course:

Acute respiratory infection

An acute respiratory infection shows usually have a mild course.Usually heals an acute respiratory infection after a while by itself: a simple running cold lasts about four to ten days. An acute respiratory infection spreads to other areas, however, complications may arise that prolong the disease.

Chronic respiratory infection

Chronic respiratory infection with tedious or lasting progress can temporarily subside apparently. After a short time, however, there is a renewed thrust disease. Chronic respiratory infection permanently narrowed (obstructive) bronchi is usually not curable and requires a lifetime concomitant medical therapy.


If you want to prevent a respiratory infection, it is important that your immune system is strengthened and generally pay attention to a healthy lifestyle: Normally, your airway is protected by the immune system and mucous membranes from infection. If this protection is reduced, in the respiratory tract can invading pathogens cause an infection. Respiratory infections occur, for example in light:

  • Physical exhaustion
  • Stress
  • Smoking
  • Pollution
  • Allergic disorders of the nose and pharynx
  • Previous infections

In order to strengthen your immune system in a natural way and thus prevent a respiratory infection, it is recommended for

  • Sufficient movement ,
  • Fresh air,
  • Healthy eating and
  • Adequate supply of vitamins and trace elements to ensure.


Some forms of respiratory infection, you can also prevent by getting vaccinated can. For this purpose, the following vaccinations are recommended:

  • Influenza vaccination : It is the best protection of the respiratory tract from infection with influenza viruses. Due to the changing annual exciter it is advisable to get vaccinated each year.
  • Pneumococcal Vaccination : It protects against bacteria that a severe form of respiratory infection – a pneumonia can trigger – (pneumonia).


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