What is Acute Respiratory Disease?

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  • Written By: Britt Archer
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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An acute respiratory disease is any disease that impairs breathing and has a sudden onset. The most common type of acute respiratory disease is the common cold. There are hundreds of viruses and bacteria that may cause the common cold, leading most fully grown adults to experience some form of respiratory disease at least twice a year, and children to experience some form of this ailment between five and seven times per year due to an underdeveloped immune system. The elderly and immunocompromised are also at a greater risk of suffering and complications caused by acute respiratory diseases.

The symptoms of acute respiratory disease vary depending upon the severity of the disease type. Lesser types of acute respiratory diseases may cause congestion, runny noses and coughing. More severe types may involve a low oxygen level in the body and breathing difficulty, which can lead to respiratory arrest or another dire respiratory emergency.

There is little to be done about lesser acute respiratory issues, but more severe diseases require immediate medical attention. Severe Acute Respiratory Disease, sometimes given the abbreviation SARS, can cause acute respiratory failure and respiratory insufficiency that can be life-threatening, developing as suddenly as in a matter of hours. This and similar types are the most costly and least survivable of the sudden onset respiratory diseases.


To prevent the onset of acute respiratory disease, it is important to maintain strict personal hygiene guidelines. Invaluable steps in prevention include frequent and properly executed hand washing, coughing into an upper arm or tissue and the avoidance of touching the face after handling foreign materials. Avoiding those who are ill and areas of outbreaks, when possible, is also recommended.

Treatment may involve antiviral and antibacterial measures as prescribed by a doctor. Most types of acute respiratory disease are caused by a virus, but may be complicated by secondary bacterial infections that can strike an opportunistic attack upon the body while the immune system is compromised. Other treatment options exist, but should be discussed with a doctor or other licensed medical professional.

Anyone who suspects he may be suffering from a moderate to severe form of an acute respiratory disease should speak with a healthcare professional. If immediate signs of a respiratory emergency occur, such as the inability to breathe, dizziness or unconsciousness, emergency medical attention is advised.



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