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The respiratory system, also known as the respiratory tract, is made up of the organs we need to breathe such as the nose, throat, larynx, trachea, bronchi, and lungs.  The oxygen we breathe enters the lungs, passes into the bloodstream, and is then transported to the various cells in the body (1).

The respiratory system can be divided into upper and lower parts.  The upper respiratory tract specifically consists of the nose, nasal cavity, mouth, pharynx, and the voice box, also known as the larynx (2).

The upper respiratory tract plays an important role in immunity for the body.  When foreign matter is inhaled, the upper respiratory tract is the first place that this matter will encounter (3). The upper respiratory tract is lined with a mucous membrane that secretes mucous which functions to trap small foreign particles like smoke, pollen, and dust (2).

An upper respiratory infection (URTI) is a symptom complex typically caused by a range of different virus families including rhinovirus, coronavirus, parainfluenza, respiratory syncytial virus, adenovirus, human metapneumovirus, or influenza.  It can affect both adults and children (4).


Generally, anyone can be at risk of becoming infected with an URTI; however, certain persons are at a higher risk than others.  This includes children and older adults due to having weaker immune systems, and people with predisposed medical conditions such as heart disease, lung issues, or a weakened immune system.  Children are at a high risk especially because they are constantly interacting with other children who may be disease carriers, they don’t wash their hands frequently, and they may be more likely to rub their eyes and put their hands in their mouth (7).


  • Pain, pressure, and tenderness over the affected sinus
  • General discomfort
  • Low-grade fever
  • Sore throat
  • Hoarseness
  • Runny nose
  • Cough (5)


  • Upper respiratory tract infections are the most common infections among children in the United States of America (2009) (8).
  • Adults have two to four URTIs annually (4).
  • URTIs due to influenza have been noted to peak in winter globally (4).
  • There are over 200 viruses responsible for human URTIs, but rhinoviruses are the most common cause (6).


Since viruses are what cause the majority of URTIs, the use of antimicrobial treatments is not necessary.  Instead, paracetamol and ibuprofen are the typical courses of treatment for pain relief (9).  For sinusitis, if symptoms in children are persistent and continue to get worse, bacteria may be the suspect.  Thus, a physician may prescribe amoxicillin alone or with clavulanate (9).

Other pharmacological treatments that may help relieve symptoms of URTIs include decongestants, intranasal ipratropium, cough suppressants, and vapor rubs (10).


Practices to Support a Healthy Respiratory Tract and Immune System:

  • Don’t smoke
  • Stay hydrated (11)

Natural Supplements That Support a Healthy Respiratory Tract and Immune System:

There is limited evidence concerning the use of natural supplements for URTIs.  Some natural ingredients that may be potentially useful include:

  • American Ginseng (12)
  • Siberian Ginseng (13,14,15,16,17)
  • Garlic (18,19)
  • Andrographis (13,14,15,16,20,21)
  • Umckaloabo (22,23,24)

Other ingredients may be helpful to support the immune system thus also helping to lower the risk of contracting a URTI.  These include:

  • Arabinogalactans (Larch laricina) (25,26)
  • Echinacea leaf (Echinacea purpurea) (27,28,29)
  • Echinacea root extract (Echinacea angustifolia) (27,30)
  • Olive leaf extract (Olea europaea) (31)


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