Respiratory viral infections are a leading cause of disease worldwide. A variety of respiratory viruses produce infections in humans with effects ranging from asymptomatic to life-treathening. Standard surveillance systems typically only target severe infections (ED outpatients, hospitalisations, deaths) and fail to track asymptomatic or mild infections. Here we performed a large-scale community study across multiple age groups to assess the pathogenicity of 18 respiratory viruses. We enrolled 214 individuals at multiple New York City locations and tested weekly for respiratory viral pathogens, irrespective of symptom status, from fall 2016 to spring 2018. We combined these test results with participant-provided daily records of cold and flu symptoms and used this information to characterise symptom severity by virus and age category. Asymptomatic infection rates exceeded 70% for most viruses, excepting influenza and human metapneumovirus, which produced significantly more severe outcomes. Symptoms were negatively associated with infection frequency, with children displaying the lowest score among age groups. Upper respiratory manifestations were most common for all viruses, whereas systemic effects were less typical. These findings indicate a high burden of asymptomatic respiratory virus infection exists in the general population.