It happens to so many of us winter after winter. You wake up one unsuspecting morning feeling like your nose is full of concrete and your throat is on fire. While the 2020 pandemic has led us all to reach for a COVID-19 test on these mornings, chances are that it’s the same nuisance we’ve been facing for decades: nasopharyngitis.
This year, though, you don’t have to go in blind. This guide has everything you need to know about the common enemy of nasopharyngitis.
Table of Contents
What Is Nasopharyngitis?
Simply put, nasopharyngitis is a clinical name for the common cold. Here’s a brief etymology lesson: in medical terms, “-itis” means “inflammation.” Nasopharyngitis, then, is inflammation of the nasal passages (“naso-”) and the back of the throat or pharynx (“-pharyng-”). Nasopharyngitis is also sometimes called an upper respiratory infection.
As frustrating and uncomfortable as the common cold can be, it almost always comes and goes without long-term or serious complications. You might even have a subtle cold more often than you think, as the average adult has a cold 2-4 times per year.
What Is Acute Nasopharyngitis?
You might hear the term “acute nasopharyngitis,” but what exactly does that mean? The term “acute” refers to an illness that comes on suddenly and is short-term, so a typical case of nasopharyngitis actually is acute nasopharyngitis. The alternative is chronic nasopharyngitis, which is nasopharyngitis that either doesn’t go away or recurs very frequently.
What Causes Nasopharyngitis?
Nasopharyngitis is an illness that is typically caused by infection from a virus. It’s possible but unlikely for bacteria to cause nasopharyngitis, so generally, the common cold is a viral infection. While there are over 200 viruses that can cause a cold, the most common culprits are rhinoviruses.
How do you get infected with a virus that causes nasopharyngitis? These viruses spread from person to person. They can spread through air droplets, so they often transmit from sneezing, talking, nose blowing, or coughing. You can also pick up one of these viruses if you touch something that a person infected with the virus has touched.
How Nasopharyngitis is Diagnosed
You don’t need a specific test to diagnose nasopharyngitis. Typically, your doctor will simply ask about your symptoms, and they may visually examine your nose and throat. They may also perform tests that rule out other illnesses that have similar symptoms, like COVID-19 or the flu. If it isn’t one of those, it’s almost assuredly the common cold.
Who is Most at Risk for Nasopharyngitis?
Because nasopharyngitis is spread through contact with people who have the illness, it stands to reason that those who come in contact with a lot of people are more likely to get colds. People with impaired immune systems, such as people with diabetes, also have a higher risk for nasopharyngitis.
Young children are at a particularly high risk, especially those who are in contact with many other children. Kids tend to have closer interpersonal contact, and they don’t have an understanding of how to use hygiene to prevent illnesses.
Common Nasopharyngitis Symptoms
How do you know if you may have nasopharyngitis? Each person’s body may react differently, but generally, a cold causes several of the following symptoms:
- Nasal congestion or a runny nose
- Sore throat
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Body aches
- Low fever
- Post-nasal drip
How Long Does Nasopharyngitis Last?
A single day of feeling under the weather is more than anyone wants, but fortunately, nasopharyngitis is fairly brief. Symptoms usually start about 1-3 days after you are exposed to the virus, and after the illness sets in, it tends to last about 7-10 days.
What Can You Do for Nasopharyngitis? Tips for Beating the Common Cold
When it comes to treating nasopharyngitis, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that, as a viral infection, it needs to just take its course; there aren’t medications to fight the infection directly. The good news, though, is that there are several measures you can take to treat the symptoms so you’re less uncomfortable while that happens.
Over-the-Counter Medications for Symptoms
There are quite a few simple medications you can pick up from any drugstore to reduce your cold symptoms. The medications will depend on what your primary symptoms are, but people with nasopharyngitis often use one or more of these types of medications:
- Cough suppressants
- Pain relievers
- Mucus thinners
- Lozenges or cough drops
- Vapor rub
It’s important to note, though, that some of these medications are not appropriate for young kids. If your child has nasopharyngitis, ask their pediatrician for recommendations based on your child’s specific needs.
Medications to Boost Your Immune System
In some cases, when a cold starts, you can help your body fight it off more quickly and keep your symptoms to a minimum by boosting your immune system. For example, zinc supplements and vitamin C supplements can enhance your immune system. For this to work, though, you need to take the supplements as early as possible, either at the first signs of symptoms or when you know you have been exposed.
It’s age-old wisdom, but it’s true: rest is important when you are sick. Stress and physical exertion can take away from your body’s ability to battle the virus, so if you can take time away from work, take a break from strenuous exercise, and minimize stress, it can help you get past your nasopharyngitis more quickly.
As we noted, treating nasopharyngitis primarily comes down to reducing your symptoms until the virus passes. There are many home remedies that can soothe you as you recover.
For example, use a humidifier or sit in the bathroom while the shower is on as a way to moisturize the air and soothe your throat. You can also soothe your throat by sipping warm water with honey. Gargling warm salt water can help to clear out post-nasal drainage, and a nasal lavage can reduce nasal congestion.
An important note, though: if you do a nasal lavage, be careful about the water you use. It needs to be purified water, or you can boil tap water and then let it cool. This prevents you from accidentally introducing dangerous microorganisms into your sinuses and causing more serious infections.
Monitor Your Symptoms
In most cases, nasopharyngitis will take its course and work its way out of your system. Sometimes, though, it can develop into other illnesses like pneumonia, a sinus infection, an ear infection, or bronchitis. Keep an eye on your symptoms and contact your doctor if you develop:
- Shortness of breath or wheezing
- Symptoms of dehydration
- High fever
- Symptoms lasting longer than 10 days
- Any other symptoms that concern you
Any type of smoke can irritate your throat and nasal passages, making your symptoms worse and putting you at a higher risk for complications like bronchitis. It’s important to avoid smoking or at least cut back as much as possible while you are sick and to avoid secondhand smoke as well.
How to Prevent Nasopharyngitis
As any medical professional will tell you, the best treatment for any disease is prevention. To protect yourself from nasopharyngitis as much as possible, follow these preventative tips.
Practice Good Contagion Hygiene
Most of the battle for preventing nasopharyngitis is avoiding coming into contact with the viruses that cause it or not allowing those viruses to take hold in your body. You can do that with certain hygienic practices:
- Wash your hands regularly, especially after having contact with people, such as when you return home from work
- Avoid contact with items that are used by many people; for example, bring your own pen to sign your receipts at restaurants rather than using the server’s pen, and use your sleeve to open doorknobs
- Avoid or minimize contact with people who have symptoms of the common cold
- Don’t touch your eyes, mouth, or nose with unwashed hands
- If you need to sneeze, sneeze into a tissue or the inside of your elbow to contain any viruses
- Stay home if you are sick
Some of these practices protect you, while some of them protect others from any illnesses you may have. Regardless, though, when a virus circulates less, it benefits everyone.
Strengthen Your Immune System
Keep your immune system in fighting shape so that it’s ready to battle any viruses that do get into your body. There’s no magic bullet; keeping your immune system strong primarily relies on basic health and wellness practices. Get enough sleep on a daily basis, eat a healthy and balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, drink enough water, and exercise regularly.
What SRx Can Do for Nasopharyngitis
It’s cold and flu season so nasopharyngitis is everywhere, but SRx can help. If you’re feeling healthy, our personalized medicine model allows us to work with you individually to optimize your health so you reduce your risk of getting sick. If you do get sick, our virtual care providers can discuss your symptoms and advise you on how to care for yourself without the need for an in-person visit. Explore our integrated healthcare services to learn more.