Chest infections are very common and if you’ve ever had one, you’ll know that they are very unpleasant. It’s important to come and see a doctor if you suspect you have a chest infection. Call us to make an appointment at your convenience or use our contact form to make an appointment.
The symptoms of a chest infection will depend upon how old you are, the causes or severity of the infection you have, and any existing medical problems or conditions.
They may develop quickly and severely, or more slowly over time. It is more common to contract pneumonia, which affects the smaller air sacs of the lungs, in the spring or winter. Bronchitis can happen at any time of year but is more common in smokers, those with environmental allergies, children and the elderly, and affects the larger airways.
Chest infections will present with the general symptoms of infection, including:
- Excessive sweating without exertion
- Decrease in appetite or no appetite
- Aches and pains in muscles and joints.
Chest infections are common, and often mild. In some cases, however, chest infections can develop into more serious cases and may even be life-threatening.
The main symptoms of a chest infection typically include:
- Persistent cough
- Coughing up yellow, green or thick phlegm, or blood
- Rapid, shallow breathing or becoming easily out of breath
- Difficult breathing
- Chest tightness, chest pain
- Wheezing (when the breath makes a rattling or whistling sound)
- A fever
- Increased heart rate or rapid heartbeat
- Mental confusion or disorientation
Bronchitis is usually caused by a virus, and pneumonia cases are bacterial. It is common to contract a chest infection following a cold or flu virus. Many of these will be mild, although in some cases they can become more serious. Like the common cold, chest infections can be spread via breathing in or touching droplets from the coughs and sneezes of infected people.
The following members of the population will be more at risk for developing serious chest infections:
- Pregnant women
- Babies and young children
- Children with developmental problems
- Significantly overweight people
- Elderly people
It is also common for those with chronic, long-term health conditions to contract chest infections, including those with asthma, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, cystic fibrosis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Immunocompromised patients (those with weakened immune systems), who have had a recent illness, chemotherapy, or other serious health condition, are also at risk.
What to do next
Chest infections can be very debilitating and need proper medical care. Give us a call or use our online booking system to make an appointment and speak to a specialist who can help you understand the best course of treatment and refer you for any necessary testing.
If you have a bronchial infection or acute bronchitis, with mild symptoms, you will likely not need any tests. With more severe symptoms, the doctor may recommend a chest x-ray, which can show how much the infection has spread, or blood or sputum (phlegm) tests, which can help identify which bacteria is responsible for the infection, and thus which antibiotic will be most effective.
Cigarette smoke damages the lining of the airways and paralyses the villi, a part of the lungs that clears phlegm. If you smoke cigarettes, the best way to significantly reduce the occurrence of chest infections is to quit. Avoid inhaling secondhand smoke wherever possible.
If you have a chest infection, the best way to proceed is to see a doctor. Suppressing a cough with a cough medicine does not always help, and in some cases may make it harder to clear an infection.