Treating Symptoms of a Respiratory Infection

Upper respiratory tract infections are common in both children and adults, though children experience them more frequently. However, despite their commonality, there aren’t many effective remedies for treating them. A big part of managing your respiratory tract infection involves treating your symptoms. You can use prescribed drugs or self-administered treatment options. Self-administered therapies are easy to obtain because you don’t need a prescription. 


Over-the-counter drugs and medications are most effective for treating symptoms of your respiratory infection. These are some of your options.


We often use antihistamines to treat allergic conditions, such as allergies and allergic reactions. But, they can also suppress some symptoms of your respiratory infection. Your body produces histamines, an allergic inflammatory chemical, in response to some allergen or trigger. These responses can occur anywhere in your body, like your nose, throat, lungs, and airways. Antihistamines work by blocking the production of this chemical.

Using Antihistamines

You can use antihistamines in one of two ways ⎯ orally or intranasally (in the nose). Antihistamines offer quick relief of your symptoms. Antihistamines tend to work better for relieving nasal congestion when used along with a decongestant. Some antihistamines have sedative effects, so you should be careful when using them.

Anti-inflammatory Agents

Anti-inflammatory drugs, like NSAIDs and Ibuprofen, reduce pain, fever, and inflammation caused by infections. Certain anti-inflammatory drugs block enzymes that control inflammation and blood flow.

You should consult with your doctor before using an anti-inflammatory agent because of potential drug interactions, risks of heart attack, stroke, and stomach ulcers or bleeding.


Antitussive drugs treat your cough caused by a respiratory infection. They include treatments like Codeine and even Menthol. We don’t know exactly how antitussives work to suppress your cough. But, we know that it blocks your cough reflex.


Decongestants treat a specific symptom of your respiratory infection: nasal congestion. When the tissue and blood vessels in your nose inflame, they swell. The swelling causes obstruction, resulting in congestion and breathing troubles. Decongestants work by targeting the swollen tissues and blood vessels.

Using Decongestants

Research suggests that the combination of decongestants with antihistamines works best. You can use decongestants in many ways ⎯ orally, intranasally, or topically. Oral decongestants are associated with more significant, systemic side effects than topically or intranasally.


Your airways naturally secrete mucus to protect against foreign invaders and moisten your airway tissues. Respiratory infections make your body produce a lot of mucus that can trigger cough and congestion. Expectorants are chemicals in over-the-counter medications that help loosen up the phlegm and mucus in your airways and chest.

Using Expectorants

Expectorants are found in pill/tablet and liquid forms. Expectorants appear to be well-tolerated. However, side effects are possible. Side effects include dizziness, headaches, and GI problems.

Herbs, Minerals, and Vitamins

These treatments may or may not shorten the length or severity of your respiratory infection symptoms. We recommend that you consult with your healthcare provider before using these alternative therapies with any prescribed medication because of possible interactions.


Echinacea is an alternative approach to preventing and treating symptoms of respiratory tract infections. It has also been associated with preventing bacterial infections resulting from respiratory infections. Echinacea has immunomodulating effects. What this means is that it changes your body’s immune system. It either activates your immune system or suppresses it in the case of over-activity. However, the reviews on its efficacy are mixed. For some people, using echinacea at the onset of symptoms or earlier in your illness may help to shorten the length or severity of your symptoms.

Using Echinacea

Echinacea is available in powder, pill/tablet, and liquid forms. There aren’t guidelines for optimal dosing of echinacea. What this means is that there isn’t a standard recommended dosage. However, echinacea appears to be well-tolerated, even in children. Side effects are possible, like skin rash.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an antioxidant vitamin that is good for healthy immune function. It supports your body’s immune defense, which is needed to protect against invaders and infections. Vitamin C also has immunomodulating properties.

Using Vitamin C

The use of vitamin C to prevent and treat respiratory tract infections is controversial. There isn’t consistent evidence to support that it does much for your cold symptoms, especially when taken at the onset of symptoms. However, regular use of vitamin C, like part of your daily regimen, may help your immune system defend against infections and slightly shorten the duration of your symptoms.