Respiratory tract infections (RTIs) can affect the sinuses, throat, airways or lungs. Most RTIs get better without treatment, but sometimes you may need to see your GP.
Symptoms of an RTI include:
Most RTIs pass within 1 to 2 weeks. You can usually treat your symptoms at home.
get plenty of rest
drink lots of water to loosen any mucus and make it easier to cough up
drink a hot lemon and honey drink to help soothe a cough (not suitable for babies)
gargle with warm salty water if you have a sore throat (children should not try this)
raise your head up while sleeping using extra pillows to make breathing easier and clear your chest of mucus
use painkillers to bring down a fever and help ease a sore throat, headaches and muscle pain
do not let children breathe in steam from a bowl of hot water as there's a risk of scalding
do not give aspirin to children under 16
do not smoke – it can make your symptoms worse
Do not give hot drinks to small children.
A pharmacist can suggest treatments to help relieve your symptoms, such as decongestants and nasal sprays.
You can also buy cough medicines and throat lozenges, although there's little evidence to show they help.
If you're taking these medicines separately, be careful not to take more than the recommended dose.
Certain treatments are not suitable for children, babies and pregnant women. Your pharmacist can advise you about the best treatment for you or your child.
Treatment will depend on the cause of your RTI:
Sometimes a sample of your mucus may need to be tested to see what's causing your RTI.
Antibiotics are only used to treat bacterial infections. They're not used for treating viral infections because they do not work for this type of infection.
If you keep getting RTIs or you're at a high risk of getting one (for example, because you're over the age of 65 or have a serious long-term health condition), you should:
RTIs are often spread in the coughs and sneezes of someone with an infection.
There are several different types. They're usually grouped into upper and lower RTIs.
Flu can be an upper or lower RTI.
Lower RTIs tend to last longer and can be more serious.