Chest infection: symptoms, causes and treatments explained

Written by: Top Doctors®
Edited by: Jay Staniland


Chest infections are a very common infection, especially during autumn and winter, and after having a cold or flu. They can be serious and need urgent treatment, but most are mild and will clear up on their own.



How do you get a chest infection?


A chest infection is an infection that occurs in the airways or the lungs. The most common types of infection are bronchitis and pneumonia.

If small droplets of bacteria or a virus are inhaled, often after someone has coughed or sneezed, an infection can develop in the airways – such as the windpipe, or in the alveoli (small air sacs) in the lungs.

An infection can also enter through the nose, if you touch an infected surface, and then touch the area around your nose, the bacteria may be inhaled in this way.


What are the symptoms?


The most common signs and symptoms of an infection are:

  • Chesty and persistent cough.
  • Breathing difficulties, wheezing and chest pain.
  • Coughing up mucus or blood.
  • High temperature (a fever).
  • Increased heartbeat.
  • A tight chest.
  • Headaches.

Who is more at risk from a chest infection?


As it is a very common infection, anyone can contract it. However, some types of people are more prone to a chest infection than others:

  • People who smoke and/or drink alcohol excessively.
  • People aged 65 or over.
  • People with chronic respiratory conditions such as COPD and asthma.
  • Babies and very young children.
  • Overweight people.

If you have a weakened immune system due to undergoing chemotherapy, or if you have a health condition, you will be more prone to contracting a chest infection.


How is a chest infection treated?


Most chest infections are mild, and will heal on their own. A chest infection usually lasts around one week to 10 days, and will clear up without the use of medicines.

In the cases of a severe infection, where the symptoms are much stronger and the infection lasts for more than a week, you should book an appointment with a consultant respiratory specialist.


By Topdoctors
Pulmonology & respiratory medicine

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