Respiratory Tract Infection Resource for Patients



AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, develops from the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, and occurs when the body loses its ability to ward off infection. AIDS itself may take many years to develop in people with HIV.

Allergic reactions

A hypersensitive response by the immune system of an allergic person to a particular substance. Allergens include the prescribed use of some medicines, certain foods and exposure to pollen and dust. (See hay fever)

Allergic rhinitis

The medical term for hay fever, a condition due to an allergy that mimics a chronic cold. Usually occurs in Spring and Summer.

Altered mental status

Describes a range of conditions including confusion, delirium and dementia.


A medicine that is made from fungi, bacteria or other organisms. It can destroy or prevent growth of other microorganisms and is used to fight bacterial infections. Antibiotics do not work against viruses or fungi.

  • Broad spectrum antibiotic(s)
    An antibiotic that kills a wide range of bacteria – it is usually the first type of antibiotic used by doctors to treat a bacterial infection. (See also narrow spectrum antibiotic.)
  • Narrow spectrum antibiotic(s)
    An antibiotic that targets specific infectious organisms and which may be prescribed by a doctor when the bacteria causing the infection have been identified after tests have been carried out


A medicine that is used to deal with the effects of the body’s histamine production in allergic reactions. It may give relief from sneezing, runny noses and itching caused by allergies.


The name given to a drug that kills bacteria or prevents them from multiplying; antibiotics are naturally occurring antimicrobials.


Asthma is a chronic (long term) disease of the airways that makes breathing difficult


Tiny, thin-walled air sacs that are part of the inside of the lungs located at the ends of the smallest airways.

Bacteria (plural of bacterium)

Bacteria are single-celled microorganisms that serve many functions. Many are beneficial including those that aid digestion; others cause disease and are called pathogenic bacteria.


A term for a drug that works by killing bacteria. (See Bacteriostatic)


A term for a drug that works by stopping the growth of bacteria. (See Bactericidal)


The name given to the (two) tubes that lead from the trachea (windpipe) to the right and left lung.


The term used to describe the small air passageways of the lungs.


Bronchiolitis is an imflammatory infection of the Bronchioles.

Bronchodilator therapy

A drug used for asthma and COPD to open up the bronchial tubes so that patients find it easier to breathe. The treatment (or therapy) might be short or long acting.

Carbon dioxide (CO2)

Breathing is the means by which oxygen is taken into the body and carbon dioxide is eliminated. A colourless, odourless gas CO2 is produced naturally as a by-product of breathing where the oxygen (O2) that you breathe in is exhaled as CO2 when you breathe out.

Cerebrovascular accidents (CVA)

A sudden rupture or blockage of a blood vessel in the brain which leads to a stroke.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

A restriction of airflow into or out of the lungs which gives rise to breathing difficulties that are not completely reversible.


Cilia are small hairs in your nose and other air passageways that filter out large particles by moving in a sweeping motion to keep the passages clean.


Coughs can either be ‘productive’ – associated with mucus (or sputum) – or ‘non-productive’ (or ‘dry’). Coughs are usually symptomatic of other illnesses which may range from colds and flu to much more serious conditions.

CT scan

Computed Tomography uses X-rays to build a detailed picture of what’s happening inside your body by taking a series of sliced images.


These are medicines to relieve nasal congestion (blockage).

Delivery mechanisms

A means of delivering something. For example, the means of delivering antibiotics is sometimes via an injection or intravenous drip.

Deviated septum

The supporting ‘wall’ between the nostrils separating the two nasal passageways is known as the ‘nasal septum’. A deviated (or crooked) septum occurs when the cartilage (to the front) or bone (towards the back of the nose) is not straight.


Too much sugar in the blood stream, usually caused by a lack of insulin produced in the body.


Emphysema is a long-term (chronic) lung disease usually associated with smoking.


Most people have an average body temperature of about 38C (98.6F) when measured by a thermometer placed under the tongue. A fever is a high body temperature and is the normal reaction to infections and other illnesses.

Flu or influenza

Flu is an extremely contagious, viral, respiratory illness that is common in winter and early spring. In severe cases, flu can lead to the life-threatening illness pneumonia.

Fungi (plural of Fungus)

When the body's immune system is suppressed, fungi may invade the body including the sinuses causing fungal sinusitis.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

GERD - also known as heartburn - is a digestive disorder that means the stomach's contents are returned back up into the oesophagus.

Hay fever

Sometimes called allergic rhinitis. A condition due to an allergy that mimics a chronic cold. Usually occurs in Spring and Summer.

Heart disease

Refers to any disorder that affects the heart including arrhythmia (irregular heart rhythm) and coronary heart disease (blocked arteries).

HIV virus

The virus that causes AIDS.

Immune system

The body’s natural defence system that, when functioning properly, protects us from illnesses by producing antibodies.


You get an infection when a foreign, parasitic organism (or 'germ') such as a bacterium, a fungus or a virus gets into your body and draws nourishment from you.


Inflammation is one of the ways in which your body heals an infection or an injury. Inflammation occurs when your skin or some other part of your body becomes red, swollen, hot and sore.

Influenza (or flu)

Flu is an extremely contagious, viral, respiratory tract infection that is common in winter and early spring. The symptoms are similar to those of a cold – only worse. In severe cases, flu can lead to the life-threatening illness pneumonia.


Usually refers to a drug being given directly into a vein.

Lung cancer

A leading cause of cancer deaths, it is also one of the most preventable as it is closely associated with cigarette smoking although there are other risk factors, including exposure to asbestos and coal dust.


Meningitis is an infection of the membranes (coverings) around the brain and spinal cord. There are two main kinds: viral (more common, less serious) and bacterial (potentially life-threatening).


Mucus (or sputum) is a slippery, protective, lubricating liquid made by glands in the mucous membranes that line the mouth, nose, throat, lungs, airways, and other organs. Mucus is normally thin, clear, and watery. Cloudy, yellow, or green mucus is indicative of an infection.

Mucous membrane

A mucus-secreting membrane lining body cavities and passageways that connect with the external air.

Nasal endoscopy

A nasal endoscope is when a tube-like instrument with tiny lights and a camera is used to examine the interior of the nose and sinus drainage areas. During the endoscopic examination the doctor will also look for any structural abnormalities that would cause recurrent sinusitis.

Nasal polyps

Small, fleshy growths in the lining of the nose.

Oxygen (O2)

A colourless, odourless gas that forms about 20 per cent of the earth’s atmosphere; essential to plant and animal life.

Oxygen therapy

A way to get more oxygen from a cylinder, via a mask, into someone’s lungs and bloodstream and used when people have breathing difficulties.


An organism that is sheltered by a different organism, where it feeds and grows while contributing nothing to the survival of its host.


Pathogens are living organisms that cause disease and include bacteria, fungi and viruses.

Patient Information Leaflet (PIL)

PILs are produced by manufacturers to accompany all medicines. The leaflet must meet certain regulations. Healthcare providers – such as hospitals – may also provide PILs about treatment options.


Pneumonia is a lung infection that can make you very ill. It can be caused by bacteria or a virus.

Pulmonary function test

Tests how well your lungs are working. During this test, you breathe into a machine that measures the amount of air in your lungs.

Pulmonary rehabilitation

Pulmonary rehabilitation programmes are designed to help those patients with chronic respiratory diseases who suffer from decreased daily life activities. Programmes typically include patient assessment, exercise training, education, and psychosocial support.

Pursed-lip breathing

Pursed-lip breathing slows down the fast breathing that often accompanies chronic bronchitis. To do this, take a deep breath, and then breathe out slowly through your mouth while forming your lips as if you're about to kiss someone.


Over time bacteria can build ‘resistance’ to an antibiotic thus making that antibiotic less effective at killing or stopping the growth of the bacteria.

Sinus infections

These can be caused by a bacterial infection but also by viruses, allergies, or environmental irritants. Antibiotics are effective only against sinus problems caused by a bacterial infection.

Sputum (or mucus)

Mucus (or sputum) is a slippery, protective, lubricating liquid made by glands in the mucous membranes that line the mouth, nose, throat, lungs, airways, and other organs.


Medical term for windpipe: the tube descending from the larynx and branching into the right and left main bronchi.


Viruses are microbes (tiny organisms) that need the living cells of humans or animals to exist. They use the machinery of cells to reproduce and multiply.


X-rays are pictures taken of the inside of your body. They are made by passing small amounts of radiation through your body and then onto film.

The information provided on this website does not replace a consultation with a medical professional. If you have any concern about your condition please contact a medical professional.

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