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Upper Respiratory Infection (URI)

Upper Respiratory Infection (URI) is a topic covered in the 5-Minute Clinical Consult.

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Upper respiratory infections (URIs) are one of the most common medical diagnoses, contributing to ~30 million office visits annually and resulting in significant lost productivity through missed days from work/school.


  • Inflammation of nasal passages resulting from infection with respiratory viruses
  • Most cases are mild to moderate in severity, self-limited, and amenable to self-treat.
  • System(s) affected: ENT; pulmonary


  • Each virus has different seasonal peaks (e.g., rhinovirus: late spring, fall); most infections occur during the winter months.
  • Symptoms usually peak in 1 to 3 days and can last up to 2 weeks.
  • Transmission:
    • Contact with contaminated skin/surface followed by contact with mucous membranes (hand-to-face contact)
    • Aerosolized particles from sneezing and coughing
  • Viruses may last up to 2 hours on skin and even longer on environmental surfaces.

  • Predominant age: children > adults
    • Preschool children: 5 to 7 URI/year
    • Kindergarten: 12 URI/year
    • Schoolchildren: 7 URI/year
    • Adolescents/adults: 2 to 3 URI/year
  • Predominant sex: male = female

Etiology and Pathophysiology

Rhinoviruses infect the ciliated epithelial mucosa of the upper airway, resulting in edema, hyperemia, and mucous production.

  • Histology: edema of subepithelial connective tissue and a scanty cellular infiltrate containing neutrophils, plasma cells, lymphocytes, and eosinophils with exudation of serous and mucinous fluid
  • Rhinovirus causes a “nondestructive” inflammation of the mucous membranes.
  • Influenza and parainfluenza viruses denude respiratory epithelium to the basement membrane.
  • Several hundred viral strains from different families; spread within geographic region and groups with close contact
    • Rhinovirus (>100 serotypes): 30–50%; incubation period 1 to 5 days
    • Influenza virus types A, B, C: 10–15%; incubation period 1 to 4 days
    • Coronaviruses: 10–15%
    • Parainfluenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV): 5%; more common in children; incubation period 1 week
    • Enteroviruses, adenoviruses: <10%
  • In many cases, no specific pathogen is identified.

Risk Factors

  • Exposure to infected people
  • Touching one’s face with contaminated fingers
  • Allergic disorders
  • Smoking
  • Immunosuppression
  • Stress

General Prevention

  • Frequent hand washing, especially in children
  • Limiting exposure to infected persons/children

Commonly Associated Conditions

  • Pharyngitis
  • Sinusitis
  • Otitis media
  • Bronchitis
  • Bronchiolitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Croup
  • Asthma

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Stephens, Mark B., et al., editors. "Upper Respiratory Infection (URI)." 5-Minute Clinical Consult, 27th ed., Wolters Kluwer, 2019. Medicine Central, im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/816892/all/Upper_Respiratory_Infection__URI_.
Upper Respiratory Infection (URI). In: Stephens MB, Golding J, Baldor RA, et al, eds. 5-Minute Clinical Consult. 27th ed. Wolters Kluwer; 2019. https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/816892/all/Upper_Respiratory_Infection__URI_. Accessed April 18, 2019.
Upper Respiratory Infection (URI). (2019). In Stephens, M. B., Golding, J., Baldor, R. A., & Domino, F. J. (Eds.), 5-Minute Clinical Consult. Available from https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/816892/all/Upper_Respiratory_Infection__URI_
Upper Respiratory Infection (URI) [Internet]. In: Stephens MB, Golding J, Baldor RA, Domino FJ, editors. 5-Minute Clinical Consult. Wolters Kluwer; 2019. [cited 2019 April 18]. Available from: https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/816892/all/Upper_Respiratory_Infection__URI_.
* Article titles in AMA citation format should be in sentence-case
TY - ELEC T1 - Upper Respiratory Infection (URI) ID - 816892 ED - Stephens,Mark B, ED - Golding,Jeremy, ED - Baldor,Robert A, ED - Domino,Frank J, BT - 5-Minute Clinical Consult, Updating UR - https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/816892/all/Upper_Respiratory_Infection__URI_ PB - Wolters Kluwer ET - 27 DB - Medicine Central DP - Unbound Medicine ER -