Upper Respiratory Infection (URI) in Teens: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

An upper respiratory infection, also called a URI, is an infection of the nose, sinuses, or throat. Viruses or bacteria can cause URIs. Colds, the flu, and sinusitis are examples of URIs. These infections are spread by coughs, sneezes, and close contact.

You may need antibiotics to treat bacterial infections. Antibiotics do not help viral infections. But you can treat most infections with home care. This may include drinking lots of fluids and taking over-the-counter pain medicine. You will probably feel better in 4 to 10 days.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of fluids, enough so that your urine is light yellow or clear like water. Choose water and other caffeine-free clear liquids until you feel better.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • No one younger than 18 should take aspirin. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • Before you use cough and cold medicines, check the label. These medicines may not be safe for young children or for people with certain health problems.
  • Be careful when taking over-the-counter cold or flu medicines and Tylenol at the same time. Many of these medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Read the labels to make sure that you are not taking more than the recommended dose. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Use saline (saltwater) nasal washes to help keep your nasal passages open and wash out mucus and bacteria. You can buy saline nose drops at a grocery store or drugstore. Or you can make your own at home by adding 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of baking soda to 2 cups of distilled water. If you make your own, fill a bulb syringe with the solution, insert the tip into your nostril, and squeeze gently. Blow your nose.
  • Use a vaporizer or humidifier to add moisture to your bedroom. Follow the instructions for cleaning the machine.
  • Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around you. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You have rapid swelling of the throat or tongue.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have a fever with a stiff neck or a severe headache.
  • You have signs of needing more fluids. You have sunken eyes and a dry mouth, and you pass only a little dark urine.
  • You cannot keep down fluids or medicine.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You have a deep cough and a lot of mucus.
  • You are too tired to eat or drink.
  • You have a new symptom, such as a sore throat, an earache, or a rash.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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