What Is an Acute Respiratory Infection?

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  • Written By: Meshell Powell
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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An acute respiratory infection is a type of bacterial, viral, or fungal infection that comes on suddenly or lasts for a short period of time. A variety of different names may be associated with an acute respiratory infection, depending on the part of the respiratory tract that is affected as well as the direct cause of the infection. Examples of infections that may affect the respiratory system include sinusitis, influenza, and pneumonia. Symptoms may range from mild to life-threatening, depending on the type of infection as well as the overall health of the patient. Any individualized questions or concerns about an acute respiratory infection should be discussed with a doctor or other medical professional.

Sinusitis is a common type of acute respiratory infection. This infection causes inflammation of the nasal passages and sinuses. In most cases, sinusitis is caused by a viral infection, although allergens or environmental pollutants may be contributing factors as well. In most cases, this type of infection is not contagious, although safety measures, such as using proper hand-washing techniques, should be employed to prevent the possibility of spreading the infection to others. Sinusitis will usually go away within several weeks without any specific medical treatment, but the use of over-the-counter or prescription medications may relieve symptoms more quickly.


Influenza, also known as the flu, is a potentially fatal type of acute respiratory infection. Caused by a virus, influenza attacks the nose, throat, and lungs. Without prompt treatment, life-threatening complications may occur. Antiviral medications have been shown to reduce the duration and severity of the flu symptoms. Vaccinations are available in many parts of the world and are thought to prevent many cases of influenza each year.

Pneumonia is an acute respiratory infection that can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. This type of infection is often aggressive and can make breathing extremely difficult. Significant damage to the lungs may occur from pneumonia, especially if left untreated. Antibiotics or other prescription medications may be used, depending on the underlying causes of the infection. Without treatment, pneumonia is often fatal.

Symptoms of an acute respiratory infection are often similar, regardless of the specific type of infection. Coughing, sneezing, and a sore throat are often the first noticeable signs of infection. Fever, headache, and fatigue are often present as well. If left untreated, chest pain and difficulty breathing may develop. Severe lung damage may occur as a result of a respiratory infection, leading to potentially life-threatening complications.



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