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What is a Chest Infection?

A chest infection is an invasion of pathogens affecting the bottom part of your respiratory tract (lungs) including the windpipe, bronchi, and lungs. Infections can range from mild to severe. Pathogens may include bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites that are not normally present within the body.

Types of Chest Infection

There are two common types of chest infection, including:

  • Bronchitis (affects larger airways)
  • Pneumonia (affects smaller air sacs): It is more common in winter and spring

What Causes a Chest Infection?

Chest infection is mostly caused by viruses, but occasionally by bacteria or fungi. Bronchitis is mostly caused by a virus, while bacteria cause pneumonia in most cases.

Who are at Higher Risk of Developing Chest Infection?

Sections of the people who are more prone to chest infection include:

  • Elderly people
  • Obese people
  • Pregnant women
  • Babies or young children
  • Children suffering from developmental problems
  • Smokers

Additionally, those who have chronic health conditions such as COPD, asthma, diabetes, heart/kidney disease, weakened immune system, etc., are also at a higher risk of chest infection.

Symptoms of a Chest Infection

There are several symptoms you are likely to experience if you have a chest infection. However, the major symptoms are a high temperature with difficulty in breathing and coughing up yellow or green mucus. You may have a chest infection if you experience:

  • A headache and discomfort/pain in your chest
  • Chesty cough (wet or phlegmy)
  • Wheezing and chronic coughing (lasting more than three weeks)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Tiredness and lethargy

Diagnosis of a Chest Infection

There are several ways your doctor can diagnose a chest infection. To start with, your doctor uses a stethoscope and listens to your heart and lungs while you breathe. Subsequently, you doctor may conduct the following evaluations based on the severity of the condition:

  • Symptoms evaluation and physical examination
  • Chest X-ray (to determine the location and severity of the infection)
  • Sputum/phlegm or even blood sample examination (to determine the cause of the infection)

Treatment for a Chest Infection

Home remedies/self-help

Sometimes, if the infection is bronchitis, it may go away on its own or else you may visit a pharmacist who will help you with some over-the-counter (OTC) decongestant medications. Other remedies include:

  • Drinking lots of fluids and taking rest
  • Not lying flat while sleeping
  • Using inhaled steam vapor or humidifier
  • Consuming a warm drink of lemon and honey
  • Staying away from smoking

Medical treatment

If the infection is severe and cannot be cured by a home remedy, you must visit your doctor for further treatment. The cause of the infection is the basis for the type of treatment prescribed.

If a virus has caused the infection, antibiotics will be ineffective. The treatment should focus on easing your symptoms until you start to get better. In case the infection is of bacterial origin, your doctor can treat you with relevant antibiotics till you recover fully. You may be given tablets if the infection is mild. If not, hospital admission may be necessary for IV antibiotics treatment.

Prognosis of Chest Infection

Most symptoms usually go away within 7 to 10 days, although a cough can last up to three weeks. If the infection is viral in nature, it will settle over time. If it is bacterial, you will start feeling better one or two days after starting on antibiotics. Even though you may begin to feel better, always remember to complete the full course of antibiotics.

How Can You Prevent a Chest Infection?

Some of the tips that can help you prevent a chest infection include:

  • Keeping your hands clean before taking food or touching your mouth
  • Getting vaccinated as recommended by your doctor
  • Eating a well-balanced diet to boost your immune system
  • Avoiding smoking and reducing alcohol consumption