Do you find yourself developing one respiratory infection after another? You’re probably wondering why you keep getting sick and whether you should speak to a professional. Below, we discuss what a respiratory infection is and the symptoms often produced by these illnesses. We also explore potential causes of frequent respiratory infections and explain when you should see a doctor.
What Is a Respiratory Infection?
When an infection develops within the respiratory tract—the part of the body that allows a person to breathe—it’s known as a respiratory infection. This may affect the upper respiratory tract (which includes the nose, sinuses, mouth, pharynx and larynx) or the lower respiratory tract (which includes the trachea, bronchial tubes and lungs).
Some of the most common types of respiratory infections include:
- Bronchiolitis – This most commonly affects infants and young children and occurs when the bronchioles (tiny airways within the lungs) become inflamed and congested.
- Bronchitis – This occurs when the bronchial tubes (which carry air to and from the lungs) become irritated and inflamed.
- The common cold – A cold develops when a virus (most commonly a rhinovirus) leads to an infection within the upper respiratory tract.
- Epiglottitis – This occurs when the epiglottis (a thin flap of cartilage located at the base of the tongue that prevents foods and liquids from entering the windpipe) becomes inflamed and swollen.
- Laryngitis – Laryngitis develops when the larynx (the voice box) becomes inflamed, often leading to hoarseness or complete voice loss.
- Pharyngitis – More commonly referred to as a sore throat, this occurs when the pharynx (the throat) becomes inflamed.
- Pneumonia – Pneumonia develops when alveoli (air sacs within the lungs) become inflamed, sometimes filling up with pus or other fluids.
- Sinusitis – Also known as a sinus infection, this occurs when the sinuses (air-filled cavities near the nose) become inflamed and swollen.
What Are the Symptoms of a Respiratory Infection?
Respiratory infection symptoms will vary depending on the type of infection present and whether it’s affecting the upper or lower respiratory tract (lower respiratory infections tend to be more severe and last longer). With that being said, these infections often produce:
- A runny nose
- A sore throat
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Swollen lymph nodes
- A fever
- Body aches
Potential Causes of Recurrent Respiratory Infections
Generally speaking, respiratory infections develop when a germ—for example, a bacterium or virus—enters someone’s respiratory tract. These infections are highly contagious and are often spread through airborne droplets or after touching a contaminated surface.
Anyone can develop a respiratory infection, but certain segments of the population are especially susceptible to them. You may keep getting respiratory infections because:
- You have allergies. Allergies increase the swelling within the nasal (nose) and sinus cavities that can obstruct the sinus openings especially a very important opening called an ostiomeatal complex. This potentially treatable obstruction blocks the normal flow of mucus, which is regularly made and cleared from the sinuses. This stagnant mucus then becomes a prime location for bacterial growth especially following a viral infection such as the “common cold”. Allergies are best treated by a board-certified allergist and its treatment can not only significantly improve quality of life but also reduce frequency of respiratory infections.
- You are frequently exposed to germs. People who regularly have close contact with infected individuals are much more likely to develop frequent respiratory infections. Children commonly become infected because they have close contact with other kids at school, touch their faces more often than adults and are less likely to cover their noses and mouths when coughing and sneezing. So, if you have a child or you work with children, you may be at increased risk. You could also be more likely to repeatedly develop respiratory infections if you work in a heath care setting where you’re in contact with sick patients, such as a hospital or a doctor’s office.
- You are regularly exposed to environmental irritants. Studies have shown that being exposed to certain environmental irritants—such as chemical fumes, diesel exhaust, dust, pollen and secondhand smoke—can increase a person’s chances of experiencing recurrent respiratory infections. So, if you live or work in an area where you’re frequently exposed to these irritants, that may explain why you keep getting sick.
- You are stressed out. Stress has a significant impact on the immune system—when someone is stressed, it’s harder for their immune system to fight off infections, including respiratory infections. If your job or personal life is causing you to feel more stressed than usual, that might be why you’ve been developing frequent respiratory infections.
- You are not getting enough sleep. Have you been staying up later than usual, whether due to a busy schedule or insomnia? Like stress, sleep greatly affects the immune system, and both short- and long-term sleep deprivation can impair the immune system’s ability to fight off respiratory infections and other illnesses.
- You have an underlying health condition. Certain medical conditions can increase a person’s chances of developing respiratory infections. These include asthma, cystic fibrosis (CF), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a deviated septum, heart disease, lung cancer, nasal polyps and conditions that weaken the immune system (for example, human immunodeficiency virus or HIV).
What is the cause?
Respiratory infections can occur for a number of reasons, including exposure to germs and allergies. Consult with your doctor to make sure you don't have a more serious underlying health condition.REQUEST AN APPOINTMENT
When to See a Doctor for Frequent Respiratory Infections
If you’re regularly experiencing respiratory infections and you think it may be because you’re stressed, sleep-deprived or exposed to germs or environmental irritants, try addressing that issue and seeing whether your symptoms resolve on their own. If they don’t, you should strongly consider consulting with a professional.
A doctor can determine what’s putting you at an increased risk for respiratory infections and help you take the steps necessary to lower that risk. Plus, if it turns out that a previously undiagnosed health condition is the root cause of your recurrent infections, your doctor can provide you with customized recommendations on how to treat that underlying condition.
Do You Need a Doctor for Recurring Respiratory Infections?
If you’re experiencing frequent respiratory infections, you can rely on the Allergy, Asthma and Immunology specialists at Florida Medical Clinic for treatment. We have offices located in Watergrass (at 7760 Curley Road), Wiregrass (at 2352 Bruce B. Downs Boulevard) and Land O’ Lakes (at 2100 Via Bella Boulevard). Click here to request an appointment with Dr. Reichmuth at one of these locations.
About Dr. Daniel A. Reichmuth, MD, FAAAAI, FACAAI
Dr. Reichmuth graduated with distinction from Purdue University, earned his medical degree from the Indiana University School of Medicine, then went on to complete an internal medicine residency at the University of South Florida. He also completed two fellowships at the University of South Florida—one in allergy and clinical immunology, and another in clinical laboratory immunology. When he’s not treating patients at Florida Medical Clinic, Dr. Reichmuth enjoys spending time with his family and participating in various outdoor activities, including tennis.