Understanding Chest Infections
Chest infections are quite common during the colder months, especially after a cold or flu. Although most are mild and get better by themselves, some can be very serious, even life threatening.
Signs Of A Chest Infection
Common Chest Infection Symptoms May Include:
- Persistent Coughing
- Coughing up green or yellow phlegm and/or blood
- Fast shallow breathing and breathlessness
- A high temperature
- A rapidly beating heart
- Tightness in the chest and/or chest pain
- Disorientation and confusion
More General Symptoms May Include:
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle and joint pain
What Is A Chest Infection?
A chest infection is an infection of the airways or lungs and the two most common infections are bronchitis and pneumonia.
- Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes (the airways leading to your lungs)
- Pneumonia is an infection of one or both of your lungs. Unlike bronchitis pneumonia can be potentially life threatening
Can Bronchitis Lead To Pneumonia?
If bronchitis remains untreated it may lead to pneumonia. The bronchitis weakens your body’s immune system defenses making you more susceptible to the viruses or bacteria which can cause pneumonia.
Bronchitis And Pneumonia
Bronchitis can be caused by viral, bacterial or environmental causes. The same viruses responsible for colds and flu can also cause bronchitis.
- With bronchitis you may experience a persistent cough which brings up mucous, have a low fever, chest tightness and shortness of breath.
- Bronchitis Can Be Acute Or Chronic
- Acute bronchitis goes away after a few days to a few weeks.
- Chronic bronchitis is a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and can remain for several months at a time. There is no cure but symptoms can be alleviated with treatment.
- Smoking is by far the leading cause of chronic bronchitis and affects both the smoker and those who breathe in second hand smoke
Bronchitis and other forms of COPD can be contracted by breathing in substances which can damage your lungs such as:
- Fibers from fabric
This is sometimes called industrial bronchitis or occupational bronchitis.
- Pneumonia can result from bacteria, viruses, or fungi.
- People with pneumonia will have similar symptoms to bronchitis. A persistent cough which brings up mucous, shortness of breath and a fever which, unlike bronchitis may be high
- People with pneumonia may also experience headache, sweaty or clammy skin, loss of appetite, malaise, sharp chest pain and/or white nail syndrome (leukonychia)
Spreading The Disease
The most common way that bronchitis and pneumonia spreads is through people not covering up when they cough or sneeze, sending millions of tiny infected droplets into the air. These droplets spread around one to three feet in the air and then settle on surfaces where the virus can survive up to 24 hours. The virus spreads by people touching the infected surface and then touching something else.
Some high risk areas for contracting disease are busy public places and everyday items such as keyboards, door handles and things like elevator buttons and escalator hand rails. People may become infected by breathing in the airborne droplets or touching any contaminated surface then putting their hand near their mouth or nose.
Certain groups of people have a higher risk of developing chest infections, such as:
- Obese people
- The elderly
- Babies and young children
- Pregnant women
- Kids with developmental problems
- People with chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease and COPD
Most chest infections are not serious and will clear up in a few days to a few weeks. You can help speed up recovery by:
- Getting plenty of rest
- Using off the shelf medications such as paracetamol or ibuprofen for headaches and minor aches and pains
- Drinking plenty of fluids to loosen the mucous in your lungs and prevent dehydration. (Drinking warm honey and lemon may help with a sore throat)
- Use an air humidifier (if you have one) to help with the cough
- STOP SMOKING
See Your Doctor If:
- You are even the slightest bit concerned about anything
- Your symptoms are severe
- Your symptoms are not improving
- You feel drowsy, disorientated or confused
- You have difficulty breathing
- You have chest pain
- You cough up any blood
- Your lips or skin have a blue tinge (cyanosis)
- You are pregnant
- You are 65 years old or older
- You are under 5 years old
- You are overweight and have trouble breathing
- You have a weakened immune system or a long term health condition
Preventing chest infections
To reduce the risk of chest infections and help stop the spread you should:
- Have Good Hygiene – Always cover up when you cough or sneeze and frequently wash your hands with soap and water (anti-bacterial soaps are great for this)
- Don’t use a handkerchief – you are filling it up with germs and then sticking them in your pocket. Use a tissue once only and put it in the bin immediately
- Have a healthy eating plan and cut down on alcohol – excessive alcohol use can lower your immunity to infections
- If you are at high risk of chest infections your doctor may recommend flu and/or pneumococcal vaccinations (a bacterium which can cause pneumonia)
- Stop smoking – smoking causes lung damage and weakens your defenses against disease