Chest infections

What causes a chest infection?

A chest infection affects the lower respiratory tract, usually the trachea, bronchi and lungs. Chest infections are caused by bacteria or viruses 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, which are inhaled by others. Infants, young children and the elderly, as well as 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 symptoms such as 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 of blood, chest pain, fatigue, unexplained weight loss, lack of appetite and night sweats.

How are chest infections treated?

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

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Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital

Suite 1613, 16th floor, Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital, Cnr DF Malan Street and Rua Bartholemeu Dias Plain, Foreshore, Cape Town, 8001

021 424 2370

Netcare N1 City Hospital

Suite 107, 1st Floor, Netcare N1 City Hospital, Louwtjie Rothman Street,
Goodwood, Cape Town,

021 595 0274