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Chronic Respiratory Infections

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This information was reviewed and approved by Ann Mullen, RN, CNS, AE-C, CDE, TTS (8/31/2018).


Respiratory infections are infections that happen in the lungs, chest, sinuses, nose and throat. Chronic infections are those that occur repeatedly over time, especially in the fall and winter seasons when people are spending more time indoors and in groups. The increased number of germs and people being in close contact with each other makes it easier for these germs to spread.

Many respiratory infection germs can be passed from one person to another by breathing in respiratory droplets from a person coughing or sneezing; by touching the nose, mouth or eyes after being in contact with someone who has a respiratory infection; or by touching another object exposed to the virus.

Respiratory infections are often caused by bacteria or viruses, although other germs can cause infections. Bacterial respiratory infections can be treated with antibiotics. Viruses cannot be treated with antibiotics, although antiviral medications may be used in certain situations. Treatment for many chronic respiratory infections is based on the symptoms the person is having and the diagnosis.

Examples of chronic respiratory infections include: the common cold, pneumonia, chronic sinusitis, chronic bronchitis, rhinitis, strep throat and influenza (flu).


Symptoms of Chronic Respiratory Infections

The symptoms of chronic respiratory infections can include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Mucus production
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Postnasal drip or nasal discharge
  • Bad breath
  • Cough

These symptoms can vary depending on the cause.



A health care provider will perform a detailed history and a physical exam.  Certain testing also may be done.


Treatment of Chronic Respiratory Infections

Treatment for many chronic respiratory infections is based on the symptoms the person is having and the diagnosis. Your doctor will recommend specific treatment for you.

Examples of possible treatments that may be recommended include:

  • Techniques to clear mucus. A nasal wash may be recommended for chronic sinus problems. Good coughing techniques and/or airway clearance devices may be recommended for chronic respiratory infections of the lower airway.

  • Medications may be prescribed to treat the infection. Antibiotics may be prescribed for a bacterial infection. Antiviral medication may be prescribed in special situations for a viral infection. Inhaled medication may also be prescribed.

  • Smoke avoidance is important. If a family member smokes, he or she should smoke outside and not in the car. If the person with respiratory infections smokes, giving up smoking is an important treatment. Talk with your doctor about helpful techniques.



There are a number of measures you can take that can help you avoid infections.

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.  Throw the tissues in the trash after you use them.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze.  Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are also effective.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.

  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

  • Stay home if you are sick. This is to keep from infecting others and further spreading the virus.

  • Vaccines are recommended. The influenza (flu vaccine) is recommended yearly, often in the fall. Talk with your health care provider about other vaccines that may be helpful for you.

If you are noticing bothersome symptoms of respiratory infections, talk with your doctor.

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