Chest infections

What causes a chest infection?

A chest infection affects the lower respiratory tract, usually the trachea, bronchi and lungs. Bacteria or viruses cause chest infections and, in very seldom cases, fungi. There is commonly a build-up of mucus and inflammation of the airways, causing difficulty breathing. They are contracted when an infected person coughs or sneezes, releasing respiratory droplets into the air inhaled by others. Infants, young children and the elderly, and those with chronic illnesses such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), asthma, or HIV, are more susceptible to contracting chest infections.

The most common chest infections in our country are bronchitis, pneumonia and the infectious lung disease tuberculosis (TB). These often present themselves with the following symptoms:

  • Bronchitis

    This type of chest infection presents as coughing, sometimes with clear, white, yellowish-grey or green mucus, fatigue, shortness of breath, slight fever and chills and chest discomfort.

  • Pneumonia

    This chest infection includes coughing, blood-stained phlegm, chest pain when breathing in or out, extreme drowsiness, fever, chills, and shaking.

  • Tuberculosis (TB)

    This is an extremely infectious lung disease in which the symptoms include persistent coughing for more than three weeks, coughing up blood, chest pain, fatigue, unexplained weight loss, lack of appetite and night sweats.

How are chest infections treated?

Depending on the type of chest infection, treatment may vary. Inhaling steam and raising your head with a pillow in bed can help to ease many of the symptoms, while your physician may also prescribe decongesting medications. While some chest infections can be overcome without serious medications, antibiotics may be needed to treat bacterial chest infections. On the other hand, viral chest infections can have serious effects on one's breathing ability and in severe cases, especially when fevers rise and the patient is a child, hospitalisation may be needed.

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