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Difference between Asthma and Upper Respiratory Infection

Difference between Asthma and Upper Respiratory Infection

It is important to be able to tell the difference between asthma and an Upper Respiratory Infection, or URI. Both conditions can cause difficulty breathing, but the treatments for each are very different.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic lung condition that inflames and narrows the airways. People with asthma often experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing. Asthma can be triggered by a variety of environmental and lifestyle factors, including pollen, dust, mold, cold air, exercise, smoke, and stress. While there is no cure for asthma, it can be managed with medication and by avoiding triggers. With proper treatment, people with asthma can lead normal, active lives.

What is Upper Respiratory Infection?

An upper respiratory infection (URI) is a contagious infection of the structures of the upper respiratory tract, which includes the nose, sinuses, pharynx, and larynx. URI is commonly called a cold.

  • The main symptom of a URI is a runny nose, but other symptoms may include a sore throat, cough, congestion, and sneezing. A cold is caused by a virus and is spread through contact with respiratory secretions or contact with contaminated surfaces.
  • Most people recover from a cold within a week or two without any complications. However, some people may develop more serious infections, such as pneumonia, bronchitis, or sinusitis. Treatment for a cold generally focuses on relieving symptoms.
  • Over-the-counter medications can be used to help with congestion and pain. Drinking plenty of fluids and getting rest is also recommended. In most cases, antibiotics are not necessary.

Difference between Asthma and Upper Respiratory Infection

Asthma and Upper Respiratory Infection (URI) are two very different illnesses.

  • Asthma is a chronic condition of the airways which leads to chest tightness, coughing, and difficulty breathing. Asthma symptoms can flare up due to allergies or other triggers like exercise, smoke, or dust.
  • On the other hand, URIs are infections caused by viruses and bacteria that cause inflammation in the upper respiratory system including the nose, throat, sinuses, and larynx.
  • Symptoms of URI include congestion, sore throat, and cough, which can worsen with time without treatment. Asthma can be managed through medication and lifestyle changes; however, it cannot be “cured” while URIs usually go away on their own after one to two weeks.

It’s important to know the difference between Asthma and URIs because treatments depend on being able to identify the actual cause for your symptoms.


Asthma and upper respiratory infections (URIs) are two common respiratory illnesses that can cause difficulty breathing. While they share some symptoms, there is a key difference between the two: asthma is an autoimmune disease, while URIs are caused by viruses or bacteria. Treatment for each illness also differs.

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