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Care for Upper Respiratory Infections

What Is an Upper Respiratory Infection (URI)?

A URI is any type of infection of the head and chest that is caused by a virus. It can affect your nose, throat, sinuses and ears. It could also affect the tube that connects your middle ear and throat, and your windpipe, voice box and airways.

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How Does it Occur?

Viruses are germs that cause infections. Over 200 viruses can cause URIs. The infection is spread when viruses are passed to others by sneezing, coughing, or personal contact. You may also become infected by handling objects that were touched by someone with an URI.

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You Are More Likely to Get a URI If

  • You are emotionally or physically stressed.
  • You are tired.
  • You are not eating enough healthy food.
  • You are a smoker.
  • You are living or working in crowded conditions.

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What Are the Symptoms of URI?

Symptoms may include:

  • Scratchy or sore throat
  • Sneezing, runny nose, and nasal congestion
  • Cough
  • Watery eyes
  • Ear congestion
  • Slight fever (99 to 100ºF or 37.2 to 37.8ºC)
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite

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How Are URI Symptoms Treated?

You usually start having URI symptoms one to three days after contact with a cold virus. You can treat them with non-prescription medicines and other self-care items.

If you have a slight fever, headache or muscle/joint aches, you may take any of these non-prescription medicines:

  • Acetaminophen 325 mg (take 2 every 4-6 hours, up to 12 total per 24 hours)
  • Or Ibuprofen 200 mg (take 1 every 4-6 hours, up to 6 total per 24 hours)
  • Or Naproxen Sodium 220 mg (take 1 every 8 hours, up to 3 total per 24 hours)

If your throat is sore,  you may try:

  • Sucking on throat lozenges or popsicles may be helpful.
  • Gargling with salt water (use one teaspoon of salt in a large glass of warm water every four hours.)

If you have a stuffy nose:

  • Use a decongestant (e.g., Sudafed or Pseudoephedrine)
  • Or, use saline nose drops to relieve nasal dryness
  • Or, ou can buy nose drops or make your own. To make a solution for nose drops, add one teaspoon of salt to a quart of water.

If you have a runny nose, use a mild antihistamine (e.g. Benadryl or Diphenlydramine)

If you have a cough, use a cough medication (e.g. Robitussin or the generic equivalent) or cough drops.

NOTE: Many over-the-counter non-prescription combination products (such as NyQuil, Comtrex, etc) have significant amounts of acetaminophen/ibuprofen/pseudoephedrine in them. Please do not take additional amounts of these medications when you use a combination product.

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How Long Will a URI Last?

URIs usually last one to two weeks.

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How Can I Take Care of Myself?

  • Drink lots of fluids (water, fruit juice, tea, clear soup broths and non-caffeinated carbonated beverages).
  • Inhale warm moist air. Use a humidifier, take showers or put a pan of water on your radiator.

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When Should I See a Health Care Provider?

See your health care provider when you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Temperature of 102ºF (38.9ºC) or higher
  • Shaking chills
  • Difficulty breathing/wheezing
  • Chest pain
  • Skin rash
  • Worsening sore throat
  • White or yellow spots on your tonsils or throat
  • A cough that gets worse or becomes painful
  • Severe headache
  • Mental confusion
  • Blue or gray lips, skin or nails
  • Worsening earache

Your health care provider can evaluate whether your symptoms are due to a bacterial infection and determine whether you need antibiotics.

Students needing to be seen should call the Health Service Appointment Office (603/646-9401) weekdays between 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM or check with a Dick's House nurse (603/646-9441) available after hours during Fall, Winter and Spring terms. Dartmouth staff or faculty, please contact your personal health care provider.

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How Do I Prevent URI Transmissions?

  • Turn away from others and use tissues when you cough or sneeze.
  • Wash your hands (or use portable cleansers) after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
  • Wash your hands before touching food, dishes, glasses, silverware or napkins or computer keyboards.
  • Use paper cups and paper towels in bathrooms.
  • Don't let your nose or mouth touch public telephones or drinking fountains.
  • Don't share food or eating utensils with others.
  • Avoid close contact with others for the first two to four days.
  • Keep your hands away from your nose and mouth.
  • Eat healthy foods, especially fruits with vitamin C, such as oranges.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Do not smoke.
  • Wear a face mask if you have a cough.

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Suggested Shopping List for the Pharmacy

(Many of these items are available in the Vending Pharmacy in the basement of Dick's House.)

  • Acetaminophen 325 mg OR Ibuprofen 200 mg OR Naproxen Sodium 220 mg
  • Sudafed (or generic equivalent Pseudoephedrine) if your nose is stuffy
  • Benadryl (or generic equivalent Diphenhydramine) if your nose is runny
  • Robitussin DM (or generic equivalent) or cough drops for a cough
  • Throat lozenges for a sore throat
  • Thermometer
  • Non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic beverages and chicken broth based soups

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Last Updated: 4/19/10