Chest Infections: or why does a cold always go to my chest!
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Chest Infections: or why does a cold always go to my chest!

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Coughs and colds are common, and most go away on their own. Some serious chest infections need to be treated with antibiotics, and some chest infections require admission to hospital.


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Symptoms of chest infections and bronchitis

  • Coughing
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Wheezing
  • Fever (high temperature)
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Coughing up yellow or green phlegm
  • Fast heartbeat

Other more general symptoms of an infection include tiredness, sweating, weakness, muscle aches and headache.


What is a chest infection?

Chest infections are bacterial, viral or fungal infections of the airways or lungs. There are several different types of chest infection, but the main ones are:

Bronchitis

Bronchitis happens when the largest airways in your lungs become infected. It is a common condition and is usually caused by viruses. Treatment is often not necessary. Less commonly, bronchitis can be caused by bacteria. This can be much more serious, and may require treatment with antibiotics.

Pneumonia

Pneumonia is a serious condition where the tissues of the lung become infected and inflamed. It is normally treated with antibiotics.


Sometimes pneumonia and bronchitis happen at the same time. This is called bronchopneumonia.


When should I contact a doctor?

If you have any of these symptoms, then seek urgent medical help. Your body may not be getting enough oxygen.

  • Feeling severely out of breath
  • Chest pains
  • Feeling drowsy or confused
  • Coughing up blood
  • Very fast breathing or heart rate

If your cough continues for more than 3 or 4 weeks, make sure you contact a doctor.


How are chest infections diagnosed?

Usually you don’t need to have any tests. From finding out your symptoms and listening to your chest with a stethoscope, a doctor can usually make a diagnosis of a chest infection. Sometimes you might need to have a chest x-ray. If you are coughing up phlegm, a sample might be taken to test for any bacteria.

Dr Morton’s provides phone or email consultations with GPs, so we can’t listen to your chest with a stethoscope. We can however give you advice and reassurance about your symptoms and any treatments you might be taking, so if you’re unsure or simply don’t know, register now and give us a call.


Are chest infections contagious?

In general, chest infections are not as contagious as infections like flu. However, you can pass viruses or bacteria on to other people if you cough or sneeze without covering your mouth. Also make sure you wash your hands after coughing or sneezing!


Treatments for chest infections

Often just bedrest and simple home remedies are enough. Drink plenty of water and eat healthily. Paracetamol, ibuprofen and aspirin can help aches and pain, and reduce fever. Hot drinks and inhaling steam can also help you get the phlegm off your lungs.

Cough mixtures and cough sweets might make your throat feel a little better if it’s tickly or sore, but they won’t make your chest infection any better.


How do I prevent chest infections?

Stopping smoking dramatically reduces the risk of a chest infection. There is some evidence that First Defence can be helpful.

Certain groups of people are at a higher risk of chest infections, such as the elderly, cancer patients or people with no spleen. For these individuals, a vaccination against the most common bacteria, pneumococcus, is available. Speak to your GP practice if you’re concerned and would like to be vaccinated.


This page was last updated on 01/10/2017


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