Acute respiratory infection is a serious infection that prevents normal breathing function. It usually begins as a viral infection in the nose, trachea (windpipe), or lungs. If the infection is not treated, it can spread to the entire respiratory system. Acute respiratory infection prevents the body from getting oxygen and can result in death. Person suffering from this condition needs medical assistance immediately. Also, acute respiratory infections are infectious, which means they can spread from one person to another. The disease is quite widespread. It is particularly dangerous for children, older adults, and people with immune system disorders. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), acute respiratory infections kill an estimated 2.6 million children annually every year worldwide.
Symptoms of Acute Respiratory Infection
The early symptoms of acute respiratory infection usually appear in the nose and upper lungs. Other symptoms include:
- congestion, either in the nasal sinuses or lungs
- runny nose
- sore throat
- body aches
If the disease advances, there may be high fever and chills. Other serious symptoms are
- difficulty breathing
- low blood oxygen level
- loss of consciousness
Causes of Acute Respiratory Infection
Although some causes of the condition are unknown, a few have been identified. They are as follows.
Adenoviruses are a class of microorganisms that can cause acute respiratory infection. Adenoviruses consist of more than 50 different types of viruses known to cause the common cold, bronchitis, and pneumonia.
Pneumococcus is a type of bacterium that causes meningitis. However, it can also trigger certain respiratory illnesses like pneumonia.
Rhinoviruses are the source of the common cold, which in most cases is uncomplicated. However, in the very young, elderly, and people with a weak immune system, a cold can advance to acute respiratory infection.
Diagnosis of Acute Respiratory Infection
In a respiratory exam, the doctor focuses on the patient’s breathing. Breath sounds in the lungs are checked for fluid and inflammation. The doctor may peer into the nose and check the throat.
If diagnosed early, over-the-counter medications can help alleviate symptoms while the virus runs its course. However, if the infection is advanced, an X-ray or CT scan (computer tomography) may be needed to check the condition of the lungs. Lung function tests have shown to be useful as diagnostic tools and for prognosis purposes. Pulse oximetry, also known as pulse ox, may be used to check how much oxygen gets into the lungs. A physician may also need a sputum (material coughed up from the lungs) sample to check for the type of virus causing the disease.
Who is at Risk for Acute Respiratory Infection?
While it is almost impossible to avoid viruses and bacteria, certain risk factors increase the likelihood of developing acute respiratory infection. The immune systems of children and the elderly are more prone to be affected by viruses. Children are especially at risk because of their constant contact with other kids who could be virus carriers. Children often do not wash their hands regularly, rub their eyes, and put their fingers in their mouths, resulting in the spread of viruses.
People with heart diseases or other lung problems are more likely to contract an acute respiratory infection. Anyone whose immune system might be weakened by another disease is at risk. Smokers also are at high risk and have more trouble recovering from it.
Potential Complications of Acute Respiratory Infection?
Complications of acute respiratory infection are extremely serious and can result in permanent damage and even death. They include:
- respiratory arrest
- respiratory failure
- congestive heart failure
Prevention of Acute Respiratory Infection
Most causes of an acute respiratory infection are not treatable. Therefore, prevention is the best method to ward off harmful respiratory infections. Practice good hygiene by doing the following:
- Wash hands frequently, especially after having been in a public place.
- Always sneeze into one's arm of the shirt or in a tissue. Although this may not ease one's symptoms, it will prevent the spreading of infectious diseases.
- Avoid touching one's face, especially eyes and mouth, to prevent introducing germs into one's system.
ARI in children