Ways to Prevent Respiratory Illness

The world is still dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. For months you’ve heard that wearing a mask, washing your hands, and avoiding close contact with others (maintaining six feet of distance) can help slow the spread of coronavirus and COVID-19. There are other diseases and illnesses that can affect our respiratory tract, and we tend to see more respiratory illnesses during cold and flu season. Learn how you can help prevent respiratory illness in your home and your community.

There are several things that you can do to protect yourself from respiratory illness, and help prevent spreading respiratory illnesses in your community. Click To Tweet

What is respiratory illness?

A respiratory illness refers to an infection or disease that affects the airways in the body. The respiratory tract includes the nose, throat, sinuses, and lungs.

Respiratory illnesses cause symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, fever, runny nose, and shortness of breath. It can be difficult or impossible to tell what type of respiratory illness you have based on your symptoms alone.

Some respiratory diseases are communicable, meaning that you can spread them to others. This includes illnesses like COVID-19 and the flu. Other respiratory illnesses, such as COPD, are not contagious.

While not all respiratory diseases are caused by the same thing, there are some basic actions that you can take to help prevent respiratory illness.


Currently, the precautions that we take to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 can also help protect you from other respiratory illnesses.

  • Practice social distancing, and limit time spent in close proximity with others outside of your home.
  • Wear a mask to help contain respiratory secretions. #MaskUp
  • Follow basic respiratory hygiene. Cover coughs and sneezes with a disposable tissue.
  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face (especially the eyes, nose, or mouth) with unwashed hands.
  • Stay home if you are sick.


There are vaccines available for some respiratory diseases, such as diphtheria, pertussis, and measles. Vaccination is the most effective way to protect yourself from preventable diseases.

It’s highly recommended that you vaccinate against the flu each year. It’s especially important to get a flu shot during the coronavirus pandemic.

A flu shot protects you and those around you from respiratory illness.

Don’t smoke

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death; it is directly responsible for 90 percent of COPD and lung cancer deaths.

Smoking of any kind (there is not a safe way to smoke) damages your lungs and causes a wide range of health problems. Smoking use also increases your risk for respiratory infections, and increases the risk of complications from respiratory diseases.

If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, you can get help so you can quit.

Healthy living

Staying in good health keeps your immune system strong. This helps your body protect itself against respiratory illness and infections.

Be physically active every day and get regular exercise.

Get enough sleep each night.

Eat a nutritious diet.

Schedule annual wellness exams with your physician.

Safety first

Work in a properly ventilated area and wear the appropriate safety equipment, such as a face mask or a respirator, when working with chemicals, pollutants, etc.

This includes activities such as sanding, painting, yard work, and when using certain bathroom or kitchen cleaning products.

You may also need a mask when spending time in crawl spaces and attics where you could be exposed to fine particulates or mold that could damage your lungs or cause respiratory illness.

Improve air quality

Take steps to improve the air quality in your home. This is especially important when more people are spending more time at home and indoors during the pandemic.

  • Vacuum, dust, sweep, and wipe down surfaces in your home regularly.
  • Replace air filters at least once every three months.
  • Wash linens and replace linens weekly, or as needed.
  • Remove shoes and jackets before entering your home.


Allergies can lead to respiratory infections, and they can trigger asthma symptoms. Talk to your doctor if you experience seasonal allergies. Your physician may refer you to a specialist, or recommend over-the-counter medicine for your symptoms.

Think of others

The default is thinking about how we can protect ourselves from respiratory illnesses. It’s important to protect yourself, but you must also protect others from contagious respiratory disease.

When fewer people get sick, everyone’s risk of getting sick from contagious diseases goes down.

  • Stay home if you are sick.
  • Avoid close contact with others.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Get a flu shot.