Respiratory tract infections (RTI) can affect your sinuses, throat, airways or lungs.   These type of infections range from sore throats, ear-ache and colds, to more serious illnesses like bronchitis and pneumonia.  But whatever the condition, there’s lots you can do to look after you and your family, including knowing when to seek healthcare advice.

• Have plenty of rest.
• Drink enough fluids to avoid feeling thirsty.
• Ask your local pharmacist to recommend medicines to help your symptoms or pain, or both.
• Fever is a sign the body is fighting the infection and usually gets better by itself in most cases. You can use paracetamol if you or your child are uncomfortable as a result of a fever.
• Use a tissue and wash your hands well to help prevent spread of your infection to your family and friends.

When to seek advice

The following are possible signs of a serious illness and should be assessed urgently:

  1. If your skin is very cold or has a strange colour, or you develop an unusual rash.
  2. If you feel confused or have slurred speech or are very drowsy.
  3. If you have difficulty breathing. Signs that suggest breathing problems can include: breathing quickly; turning blue around the lips and the skin below the mouth; skin between or above the ribs getting sucked or pulled in with every breath.
  4. If you develop a severe headache and are sick.
  5. If you develop chest pain.
  6. If you have difficulty swallowing or are drooling.
  7. If you cough up blood.
  8. If you are feeling a lot worse.

If you or your child has any of these symptoms, are getting worse or are sicker than you would expect (even if your / their temperature falls), trust your instincts and seek medical advice urgently from NHS 111, or your GP.  If a child under the age of five has any of the symptoms 1–3, go to A&E immediately or call 999.

When to get help

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There are less serious signs that can usually wait until the next available appointment: if you’re not starting to improve a little, usually within 7-10 days; in children with a middle-ear infection, if fluid is coming out of their ears or if they have new deafness, or you have mild side effects such as diarrhoea.

However seek medical attention if you’re concerned.

If you have a long term condition, you may also need to seek advice earlier.