Chest infection: Causes, Symptoms and treatments

What is Chest Infection?

  • A chest infection is a type of respiratory infection that impacts the lower part of your respiratory tract.
  • Your lower respiratory tract includes your windpipe, bronchi, and lungs.
  • The two most common types of chest infections are bronchitisand pneumonia. Chest infections can range anywhere from mild to severe.

Causes of chest infection:

  • A chest infection can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection. The exact cause will depend on the type of infection.
  • For example, bronchitis is often caused by a virus, whereas most cases of pneumonia are bacterial in origin.
  • You can catch a chest infection by inhaling the respiratory droplets that are generated when someone with an infection coughs or sneezes. That’s because the respiratory droplets carry the infection.
  • Additionally, coming into contact with a surface that’s contaminated with the virus or bacteria, and then touching your mouth or face can also spread the infection.
  • You may be at an increased risk for a chest infection if you:
    • Are elderly
    • Are pregnant
    • Are a baby or young child
    • Smoke
    • Have a chronic health condition, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), asthma, or diabetes
    • Have a weakened immune system, either from a condition such HIV, or from being the recipient of an organ transplant.

Symptoms of chest infection:

The symptoms of a chest infection can include:

  • Chesty cough (wet or phlegmy)
  • wheezing
  • Coughing up yellow or green mucus
  • Feeling short of breath
  • Discomfort in your chest
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Feeling tired or fatigued

When to seek help from a healthcare provider?

  • In some cases, a chest infection, such as acute bronchitis, will go away on its own and you won’t have to see a doctor.
  • A pharmacist may be able to help you by recommending over-the-counter (OTC) decongestant medications to help loosen any mucus in your chest, which will make it easier to cough up.

You should always go to see a doctor for a chest infection if you:

  • Are over 65 years old
  • Have a child under 5 with symptoms of a chest infection
  • Are pregnant
  • Have a chronic health condition or a weakened immune system
  • Cough up blood or bloody mucus
  • Have symptoms such as a fever or headache that gets worse
  • Have a cough that lasts longer than three weeks
  • Have quick breathing, pain in your chest, or shortness of breath
  • Feel dizzy, confused, or disoriented

Treatment for chest infection:

  • If your chest infection is caused by a virus, antibiotics won’t be effective. Instead, your treatment will focus on easing your symptoms until you begin to get better.
  • If you have a bacterial infection, you’ll be treated with antibiotics. In a mild case, you can take these at home in tablet form.
  • If you have a severe bacterial chest infection, you may need to be treated with IV antibiotics in a hospital.
  • Always take the full course of antibiotics, even if you begin to feel better.

Home remedies for chest infection:

These home remedies may help ease the symptoms of your chest infection. Try these tips:

  • Take OTC medications such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) to lower your fever and help relieve any aches and pains.
  • Use OTC decongestants or expectorants to help loosen mucus and make it easier to cough up.
  • Be sure to get plenty of rest.
  • Drink lots of fluids. This keeps you hydrated and can loosen mucus, making it easier to cough up.
  • Avoid lying flat when sleeping. This can cause mucus to settle in your chest. Use extra pillows to elevate your head and chest at night.
  • Use a humidifier or inhale steam vapor to help relieve coughing.
  • Have a warm drink of honey and lemon if your throat is sore from too much coughing.
  • Avoid smoking, or being around secondhand smoke or other irritants.
  • Stay away from cough suppression medicines. Coughing actually helps you to get over your infection through clearing mucus from your lungs.

How long does it take to recover from a chest infection?

  • Most chest infection symptoms typically go away within 7 to 10 days, although a cough can last up to three weeks.
  • See your doctor if your symptoms haven’t improved or have gotten worse in this time.

What are possible complications from a chest infection?

How to prevent a chest infection?

You can help prevent chest infections by following the tips below:

  • Make sure your hands are clean, particularly before eating or touching your face or mouth.
  • Eat a healthy well-balanced diet. This can help boost your immune system and make you less susceptible to infection.
  • Get vaccinated. Chest infections can develop following an infection such as influenza, for which there’s a seasonal vaccine. You may also want to consider receiving the pneumococcal vaccine, which offers protection from pneumonia.
  • Avoid smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Reduce the amount of alcohol that you consume.
  • If you’re already ill, wash your hands frequently and be sure to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Dispose of any used tissues properly.

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