Respiratory symptoms comprise a vast range of inflammation and discomfort throughout the respiratory track. Symptoms that affect the nose, throat, and lungs are typically considered respiratory symptoms, and can be signs of a wide variety of conditions. Most colds and seasonal varieties of flu present with at least some mild respiratory symptoms that will subside after a week or so, but people with allergies, asthma, infections, and serious respiratory conditions may have symptoms that require constant management.
Upper respiratory symptoms are those that affect the nose and throat. If the tissue in the nose becomes inflamed, it may swell, causing a feeling of stuffiness. Mucus production may increase, leading to a runny nose and discolored nasal discharge. Both stuffy and runny noses may be signs of various ailments that affect the respiratory system, such as a cold, sinus infection, or even allergies. Similarly, a sore, scratchy, or inflamed throat may be due to irritation caused by a virus, or may be a result of increased mouth breathing due to congested sinuses. Most doctors suggest that patients do not require medical attention unless symptoms worsen after several days or last more than a week.
If respiratory symptoms include dry or mucus-producing coughing, it may be a sign of more serious conditions. Getting a cold or flu can sometimes cause respiratory infections, which result in inflamed tissue and pus-filled discharge expelled when coughing. Respiratory infections can also be caused by lifestyle or environmental issues, such exposure to smoke, smog, or unhealthy breathing conditions. Acute respiratory infections are often treated with short courses of antibiotics, while recurring conditions such as chronic bronchitis, may require lifelong medication and lifestyle changes.
Wheezing is a common respiratory symptom associated with a variety of conditions, but often linked to asthma. The symptom consists of a whine or hum in the lungs that is audible when a patient inhales or exhales. Wheezing often suggests that airways have been temporarily or permanently obstructed, and can be a sign of very serious conditions such as lung disease.
Although respiratory symptoms are often fairly mild and will disappear with treatment, some may be signs of serious health conditions. Lung disease, pneumonia, asbestosis, and severe allergic reactions may be characterized by some or many respiratory symptoms. If symptoms are chronic, do not appear to be related to a sudden illness, or continue for more than a week, most experts recommend seeing a health care professional. Many diseases are treatable, especially if caught early on in the process. Some doctors also suggest that avoiding smoking, remaining at a healthy weight, and living in a clean, well-ventilated area can help keep the respiratory system functioning normally and prevent otherwise mild symptoms from becoming severe.