Contributed by – Healthians team
By now we all know the novel coronavirus is from the family of viruses that cause respiratory infections. Common symptoms of such infections are cold, cough and breathing difficulty. Although COVID-19 is new for us, there are many respiratory infections (from mild to severe) that have been haunting us for ages.
Some people are at risk of respiratory infections more than others. Genes could be a cause of that. Other times, lifestyle and environmental exposure become a reason. So today, let us talk about some respiratory infections that most commonly affect us and what we can do about them.
Types of respiratory infections
Types of respiratory infections are broadly divided into two categories: Upper respiratory infections and lower respiratory infections. Basically, our body’s respiratory system includes the nose, sinuses, mouth, throat, voice box, windpipe and lungs. So, the infections related to the higher parts of the respiratory tract, like the nose, sinuses and throat, are grouped as upper respiratory infections, while infections in the lower part of the respiratory tract are grouped as lower respiratory infections which mainly affects the airways and the lungs. Symptoms of both these infections may overlap with each other. However, the most commonly noticed are the common cold, mild flu, tonsillitis, cough, chest tightness and shortness of breath.
Some most common respiratory infections
Whooping cough is caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacterium. This bacteria is highly contagious making the infected person cough violently and uncontrollably. It can be exhausting and painful. During such a coughing attack, the lungs release all the oxygen they have which makes the infected person inhale violently making the whooping sound. Infants and those with weak immunity are at risk the most.
The only way to stay safe is by getting vaccinated for it. The vaccine is recommended for both children and adults.
Swine flu (H1N1)
Swine flu is caused by the Influenza A virus. In the past, the people who got infected were in direct contact with the pigs, hence the name. However, it’s not the case anymore. It spreads among people just like the seasonal flu spreads, by getting in contact with the infected person who is coughing or sneezing. Symptoms of swine flu include fever, headache, chills, muscle pain, joint pain vomiting and diarrhea.
You can reduce your chances of getting infected by getting vaccinated for swine flu. The swine flu vaccine is available in two forms – as a shot and as a nasal spray. Swine flu vaccine as a shot is called the “killed virus” vaccine, whereas nasal spray swine flu vaccine is called the “live virus” vaccine. In both cases, the vaccine works by exposing the patients to a small dose of virus, which in turn helps the immune system to develop immunity against the virus.
Flu – in children and adults
Seasonal influenza or flu is caused by influenza A or B. It can affect both the children and adults but those with weak immunity are the most vulnerable to it. Flu is highly contagious and spreads through the droplets of the infected person created while coughing, sneezing and talking. Symptoms of flu include fever, chills, throat pain, stuffy nose, muscle pain, headache, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea. In adults, flu complications can cause bacterial pneumonia, ear infection, sinus infection, dehydration and worsening of existing chronic conditions.
Annual flu shots are recommended to prevent the seasonal flu in both children and adults. These vaccines contain dead viruses that trigger the immune system to create antibodies against them. It is advisable to get the flu shot before the flu season begins as the body takes a minimum of 2 weeks to develop the antibodies. Moreover, health history and allergies should be considered before getting the flu shot.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
COPD is a chronic inflammatory lung disease which causes obstructed airflow from the lungs. People usually experience symptoms like shortness of breath, cough, mucus production and wheezing. The typical cause of COPD is smoking or exposure to irritating gases. Genes may also play a role in it sometimes. In most cases, COPD goes undetected for far too long as the symptoms are often mistaken for the gradual process of aging.
COPD is an irreversible disorder. Treatment includes smoking cessation, medication to open the airways and pulmonary rehabilitation.
Pneumonia can be viral, bacterial or fungal. It is caused by an infection in the air sacs in the lungs. Symptoms include cough, fever, chills, and breathlessness and can range from mild to severe. Most people recover from it in one to three weeks. But for some people, especially children younger than 5 yeas old, pneumonia can be life-threatening. Risk of pneumonia complications increases if there is underlying medical conditions like heart diseases or diabetes.
Pneumonia can be prevented by following proper hygiene rules, like washing hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, keeping hands away from eyes, ears, nose and mouth, and staying away from people who seem ill. Getting vaccinated for instigating viruses may also be beneficial.
In bronchitis, the air passages within the lungs, called bronchi, become inflamed. They swell and produce mucus which brings about coughing fits. Sometimes, it is also known as a chest cold. The infected person may experience fatigue, body aches, headache, sore throat and watery eyes. Bronchitis can be acute or chronic. Acute bronchitis lasts for five days to three weeks, whereas, chronic bronchitis may last for three months to a few years. Smoking is the most common cause of chronic bronchitis, although dust, allergens and toxic gases can also contribute to it.
Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition. It causes difficulty breathing because of the inflammation of the airways. Symptoms of asthma include dry cough, wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. Various elements, including infections and pollution, can trigger asthma attacks. Anti-inflammatory medications may be beneficial in managing asthma.
COVID-19 or severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) was first identified in China in 2019. By March 2020, the World Health Organization declared it a pandemic. It is one of the seven types of coronavirus, some others being Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). COVID-19 can affect your upper respiratory tract or lower respiratory tract. Symptoms include cough, cold, fever, chills, loss of taste and smell, breathlessness and fatigue. This disease is mild in some cases and deadly in others. Extensive research on this virus is going on to learn about the ways to deal with this virus. However, with healthy immunity and by following all the necessary precautions, you can keep yourself safe.