Respiratory tract infections

Respiratory tract infections

Click on the name of the infection in the image below to find out more about the different types of respiratory tract infections.

Scroll down below the image to read more about what respiratory tract infections are and what causes them.

Sinus infectionInfection of the pharynxInfection of the tonsilsInfection of the large airwaysMiddle ear infectionInfection of the voice boxInfection of the small airwaysLung infection

What is a respiratory tract infection (RTI)?

A respiratory tract infection is an infection anywhere in the respiratory tract (i.e. the nose, throat and lungs). The infection can be caused by bacteria, a virus or even fungi.

Upper respiratory tract infections

Upper respiratory tract infections occur above the chest and include:

  • colds (affecting the nose, throat, and chest)
  • sinusitis (infection of the sinuses)
  • throat infection (or pharyngitis — an infection of the throat or pharynx)
  • tonsillitis (infection of the tonsils)
  • laryngitis (infection of the larynx or voice box)
  • influenza (widespread infection which can affect the nose, throat and, occasionally, part of the lungs)
  • whooping cough (pertussis)

Middle ear infections (otitis media) are a common complication of a respiratory tract infection.

Lower respiratory tract infections

Lower respiratory tract infections affect the trachea or windpipe and lungs and include:

  • bronchitis (infection of the large airways or bronchi)
  • bronchiolitis (infection of the small airways or bronchioles)
  • croup (infection of the trachea or windpipe in children)
  • influenza (widespread infection of the upper and lower respiratory tract including the nose, throat and, occasionally, bronchi and lungs)
  • pneumonia (infection of the alveoli and surrounding lung tissue)

Information for health professionals

Antibiotic resistance

If antibiotic resistance continues to grow at current rates, we are potentially facing a return to the pre-antibiotic era and a future with no effective antibiotic treatments.

To help health professionals take an important and necessary role in addressing the problem of antibiotic resistance, this knowledge hub provides useful advice and simple tools to use with your patients who present with acute respiratory tract infections (RTIs).

Antibiotic resistance and RTIs — information for health professionals

Respiratory tract infections symptomatic management plan and patient counselling tool

Designed for use in consultations with patients who have simple respiratory tract infections that do not require antibiotics (e.g. common cold, uncomplicated rhinosinusitis).

This tool is also available as a PDF in certain prescribing software packages. Pads containing multiple copies of the English version are available to order from our orders page.

Related information - respiratory tract infections


For health professionals
13 Oct 2016 Find out which tests, treatments or procedures healthcare providers and consumers should question, as recommended by Australian medical colleges.
For health professionals
14 Mar 2016 Diagnostic imaging pathways are available for respiratory disorders, including bronchiectasis, pulmonary embolism, chest trauma, dyspnoea, lung cancer and haemoptysis.
14 Mar 2016 Antibiotics aren’t likely to help coughs, colds or sore throats. Download a factsheet about treating respiratory infections here.
01 Mar 2016
Recommendations from the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases on antibiotics, faecal pathogen tests, fatigue, bacteruria, leg ulcers & respiratory infections.
05 Aug 2015 What to do if your child has a fever because of a respiratory tract infection (RTI) or vaccination, including when to seek medical advice and when to give paracetamol or ibuprofen.
23 Jun 2014 Antibiotic resistance is when bacteria are no longer sensitive to an antibiotic. Read about how antibiotic resistance is caused and what you can do to help prevent it
For health professionals (Condition)
13 Jun 2014 When is wheezing in children due to asthma. Find out
For health professionals (Medicine)
13 Jun 2014 Using inhaled corticosteroid (ICS) for treating respiratory tract infections (RTIs) is not supported by evidence. Find out more:
For health professionals (CPD activity)
27 May 2014 Treat a young child who presents to ED at night with an upper respiratory tract infection and fever.
For health professionals (CPD activity)
23 May 2014 Reflect on your management of 10 patients with acute bacterial rhinosinusitis, acute sore throat/pharyngitis/tonsillitis, acute otitis media, common cold/acute viral rhinitis (non-specific upper respiratory tract infection), or acute bronchitis.