Chest infections: frequently asked questions

Written by: Dr Anne Mier
Edited by: Bronwen Griffiths

A chest infection is an infection of the lungs or airways and can range from mild to more severe. Some chest infections will clear up on their own, with rest and time, whilst others can require immediate medical attention. Find out from an expert respiratory specialist, Dr Anne Mier, the answers to the most commonly asked questions about chest infections.

How do I know if I have a chest infection?

You know that you have a chest infection when you feel unwell, have a cough and often anterior chest pain when coughing along the line of the airways. You may also have a fever, muscle aches and may have a sore throat or sinusitis, among other symptoms.


When should I seek medical advice for a chest infection?

You should seek medical advice for a chest infection if you feel unwell and are not improving with home remedies, paracetamol and rest. You should seek medical attention if you have a high fever, are coughing up thick or discoloured sputum, or blood, if you are short of breath, have chest pain and particularly if you are getting confused.


Can a chest infection be dangerous?

A chest infection can be dangerous if it becomes a pneumonia where the infection has affected the lungs. Chest infections can be dangerous if they cause a high fever and confusion. Serious complications can also occur, among others, pulmonary emboli - clots in the lungs.


What are the best ways to get over a chest infection?

If it is a mild infection, the best way to get over it is to drink warm fluids, such as honey and lemon, eat well with lots of fruit and vegetables, keep warm and rest if possible. If the infection is other than mild, or has progressed then it is best to seek medical advice as antibiotics, although generally best avoided if possible, may be needed, together with other medical assistance.


What does it mean if I get repeated chest infections?

Having recurrent chest infections can be a sign of, among other things, an underlying lung condition, a vitamin deficiency or an immune deficiency. It is helpful to see a respiratory physician to exclude any such conditions and to see if anything can be done to prevent recurrent infections.


If you would like to find out more, make an appointment with a specialist.

By Dr Anne Mier
Pulmonology & respiratory medicine

Dr Anne Mier is a leading expert in respiratory and general medicine in London. Having graduated in medicine at the Middlesex Hospital, she took up training posts in cardiology and rheumatology there, then general medicine and neurology at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, and later general medicine and endocrinology at the Royal Free Hospital.

With experience working in a wide variety of fields in medicine, she became registrar at the Royal Brompton Hospital and carried out research in respiratory muscle physiology, completing her MD thesis before becoming lecturer and senior medical registrar at Charing Cross Hospital.

Specialising in all kinds of respiratory problems such as chest infections, cough, and breathlessness, other interests include sleep disorders and fatigue. Now a leading expert in respiratory and general medicine, she has published extensively in peer-reviewed papers and always strives to provide her patients with the best, most appropriate and kindest possible care tailored to each medical case.

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