Chest infections are prevalent particularly after a common cold or flu during the autumn and winter season. Even though most cases are relatively mild and settle on their own, some can be serious and even dangerous.
What are the indications?
The chief indications of a chest infection generally include:
- Continuous cough
- Breathlessness or rapid and shallow breathing
- Coughing up greenish or yellowish phlegm or expelling blood
- Chest pain or tightness
- Confusion or disorientation
In some cases, there are generalized symptoms of an infection such as fatigue, headache, sweating, muscle or joint pain and appetite loss.
What are the causes?
Chest infections involves the airways or lungs. The main forms of chest infections are pneumonia and bronchitis.
In most cases of bronchitis, they are brought about by viruses while pneumonia is triggered by bacteria. It is important to note that these infections generally spread if an infected individual coughs or sneezes.
Who are at risk?
There are certain individuals who face a high risk for ending up with severe chest infections such as:
- Infants and young children
- Children who have developmental issues
- Overweight individuals
- Pregnant women
- Individuals who smoke
- Individuals with a weakened immune system – this might be due to an organ transplant, recent illness, chemotherapy, under high-dose steroids or an undiagnosed HIV infection.
- Individuals with chronic health ailments such as heart disease, asthma, cystic fibrosis, kidney disease or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Management of chest infections
Generally, most cases of chest infections are not serious and settle in a few days or weeks. Consulting a doctor is not required unless the symptoms suggest a serious infection.
During recovery at home, measures to help the symptoms improve include:
- Adequate rest
- Increasing the intake of fluids to prevent dehydration and loosen up the mucus in the lungs so that they are easy to expel
- Pain medications can be given for the headache, body aches and fever
- Provide the individual with a warm beverage of lemon and honey to relieve a sore throat due to the continuous coughing
- Cessation of smoking
- Elevating the head on extra cushions or pillows while sleeping to allow easier breathing
- Use an air humidifier or inhale steam from a basin of hot water to ease the cough
Remember that cough medications must be avoided since there is limited proof that they work. In addition, coughing helps in clearing the infection more rapidly by eliminating the phlegm from the lungs.