More than 50 walk-in locations

We’ve all had that feeling of dread when we’re stuck in a small space with someone who starts coughing and sneezing. Are we going to get sick, too? Now that most public places have lifted COVID-19 mask requirements, you may have even greater reason for concern.

Respiratory infections continue to be abundant in the spring, as temperatures warm up and allergy season begins. Are respiratory infections contagious? And how long do they last? Let’s find out how high the chances are of catching someone else’s respiratory infection, and how FastMed, CareSpot, and MedPost can help you treat and manage your symptoms.

What Is a Respiratory Infection? 

Respiratory infections attack your respiratory system (the part of your body responsible for breathing) and can affect your throat, sinuses, airways or lungs. There are two types of respiratory infections: upper respiratory infections and lower respiratory infections.

Upper respiratory infections affect your throat or sinuses. Examples include laryngitis, pharyngitis (sore throat), sinusitis (sinus infection), strep throat – and everyone’s favorite, the common cold.

Lower respiratory infections, which affect your airways or lungs, generally last longer and are more serious. Examples include bronchitis (a lung infection that causes coughing and fever), bronchiolitis (a lung infection that typically affects young children), flu, pneumonia and RSV.

Symptoms of Respiratory Infections

The symptoms of an upper respiratory infection may include:

  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Sore throat
  • Hoarse voice
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches

Usually, the most noticeable symptom of a lower respiratory infection is a deep cough that sometimes produces mucus. You may also experience the following:

  • Wheezing
  • An increased breathing rate or feeling breathless
  • Tightness in the chest

In addition, risk factors for increased severity of upper respiratory infection (URI) include:

  • Underlying chronic diseases
  • Congenital immunodeficiency disorders
  • Malnutrition
  • Cigarette smoking

How Respiratory Infections Spread

If someone coughs or sneezes near you, you actually do have reason to worry. Both types of respiratory infections are highly contagious.

People with respiratory infections pass them to others by:

  • Coughing or sneezing without covering their nose or mouth – This unhealthy practice sprays germ-filled respiratory droplets into the air and onto shared surfaces, such as doorknobs or elevator buttons.
  • Coughing or sneezing into their own hand and then touching someone else’s hand – As soon as that person touches their mouth, nose or eyes, the infection will enter their body – and the cycle continues.

Just How Contagious Are Respiratory Infections? Let’s Talk Numbers

According to a medical review published in the New England Journal of Medicine, family members have a 66% chance of passing the common cold from one another. The risk of flu infection from a family member ranges from 20-60%. However, in daycare centers, 100% of exposed children become ill from bronchiolitis. These numbers prove that exercising caution is key to staying well.

There is a greater risk of URI during the winter, particularly during the flu season, emphasize the need for yearly flu vaccine and COVID vaccine and boosters.

Risk associated with travel, exposure to children in daycare setting, and increased indoor crowding events-again emphasize need for hand hygiene and infection precautions such as staying home when you are ill and wearing a mask!

How to Protect Yourself

You can help protect yourself by washing your hands frequently with soap and warm water, and encouraging your kids to do the same. Avoid close contact with anyone who is ill, and ask them to cover up when they cough or sneeze.

Perhaps most importantly, get a flu shot every year and make sure that you are current on all other vaccines and immunizations.

How Long Do Respiratory Infections Last?

Upper respiratory infections typically last for a week or two. If your symptoms last longer than two weeks, visit a FastMed, CareSpot, or MedPost urgent care center near you as soon as possible. You could have a more serious condition that is causing your symptoms, such as bronchitis or pneumonia.

Treatment for Respiratory Infections

Most mild upper respiratory infections can be treated with over-the-counter medications (such as decongestants and pain relievers), plenty of fluids and rest. Antibiotics are generally ineffective, unless the infection is caused by bacteria (for example, sinusitis or strep throat).

The majority of URIs are caused by viruses and antibiotics are not effective treatment and, in some cases, can cause further harm. (Certain high-risk patients or patients with a secondary infection may require an antibiotic based on medical evaluation.)

If your symptoms persist or get worse, visit your nearest urgent care center right away. Our team of medical professionals can determine if you have a more serious respiratory infection or a chronic condition like asthma or allergies, then prescribe the appropriate course of treatment.

Breathe Easier With Our Help

Respiratory infections are never fun, but you don’t have to suffer through them without help. Our urgent care clinics are open extended hours on weekdays, weekends and holidays. Just walk in or check in online, and we’ll take care of the rest. Find a FastMed, CareSpot or MedPost urgent care center near you today.

About FastMed

FastMed is a leading provider of high-quality, convenient, affordable, and compassionate healthcare in 34 counties across North Carolina. FastMed serves both urban and rural communities across the state with a wide range of care options, including preventive, telemedicine, occupational health, and primary and urgent care. FastMed is one of the few urgent care providers in the nation that has earned The Joint Commission’s coveted Gold Seal of Approval® for quality, safety, and infection control in ambulatory healthcare. For more information, visit

Sign up for email offers

Sign up to receive coupons, health tips, and more–directly to your inbox.