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Babylon Health

Treating Chest and Respiratory Infections Online

What is a Chest Infection?

Chest infections, also known as respiratory infections, are an infection of the lungs and/or respiratory tract. They affect your breathing. They are usually viral, but can also be caused by bacteria or fungal infections. There are plenty of common health conditions that count as chest infections, like acute bronchitis or pneumonia.

Chest Infection Causes

Typical Symptoms

Because there are so many kinds of chest infections, there are a range of causes. Getting a bacterial or viral infection is usually the cause. Most viral and bacterial infections spread person-to-person when an infected person either touches or exchanges bodily secretions with another person. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is spread by droplet transmission. This means that the virus is spread through small droplets in the air when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or talks. You can also pick up the germs from a surface that an infected person has touched - or develop an infection as a complication of another viral infection, like the flu.

Certain people are at higher risk for chest infections, such as the following:

  • the elderly
  • babies and young children
  • pregnant people
  • smokers
  • people with chronic health problems like COPD, asthma, or diabetes
  • people with weakened immune systems or people on medications affecting their immune system
  • People with cancer

It’s also possible to develop a chest infection after surgery - this is called ‘postoperative chest infection’. Some surgical procedures can cause temporary problems with the way phlegm is moved out of the lungs, leading to infection. Additionally, if you have surgery that causes pain, you may not breathe as deeply due to the pain. This can cause small cells in the lungs to collapse a little, and infection to form there.


Infections in the lungs or upper airways are most commonly caused by viruses. Some types of pneumonia can also be caused by bacteria, and, less commonly, fungal infection in the chest. With a sinus infection, chest pain or chest tightness may be a sign that the infection has moved from the upper airway structures (nose and sinuses) into a lower respiratory infection like bronchitis. (Bronchitis is infection or inflammation of the large bronchial tubes that connect your trachea to the lower lungs.

Infections are commonly sorted into lower and upper respiratory tract infections. With lower respiratory tract infections, symptoms will mainly be concentrated below the larynx (voice box), affecting your lungs. Upper respiratory tract infections usually affect the throat, nose, and sinuses.

Chest Infection Symptoms

The signs of chest infection can change based on what kind of infection you have. The common symptoms of chest infection are:

  • Cough- may be dry or wet (mucousy)
  • wheezing, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing
  • bringing up yellow or green mucus when you cough
  • chest discomfort or pain
  • fatigue
  • muscle aches/pain
  • fever or chills
  • headache
  • sore throat
  • runny nose or eyes
  • sneezing

Is it possible to have a chest infection with no cough, no fever, or without other common symptoms? Yes. That's why it's important to seek medical help for any persistent symptoms. .

In a lower respiratory tract infection, most of your symptoms will be located in your chest. Cases of pneumonia, bronchitis, and tuberculosis all fall under this umbrella. With an upper respiratory infection, chest pain or other lower respiratory infection symptoms are less common and symptoms such as sore throat, lost voice, or headache are more common. The common cold and sinus infections are both upper respiratory infections.

Chest Infection Treatment

Once again, your treatment options vary based on what type of infection you have. Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics. Viral chest infections are usually monitored and treated with rest, fluids, and over the counter (OTC) remedies, because viruses are not killed by antibiotics. Fungal infections are treated with medicines that kill fungi (antifungals).

If you choose to seek medical care from a healthcare professional, they may take a chest X-ray to confirm an infection. They will also ask questions about your symptoms, whether you have been exposed to anyone who was sick, and listen to your breathing.

At Home

There are some home remedies for chest infections. You can treat symptoms by using ibuprofen for inflammation or acetaminophen for fever or headaches. There are cough medicines available OTC, including home remedies for chest infection in infants and babies. A humidifier or hot shower can help manage symptoms of cough or sore throat.

Like with many illnesses, getting plenty of rest and drinking plenty of fluids are important, especially for older adults and children. If you can, get rid of irritants in the home that can contribute to long term lung problems or coughing. Secondhand smoke can make chest infection symptoms worse. If your family cat or dog makes you sneeze, now might not be the best time to cuddle up with them.

From your doctor

Seek medical advice if you have a medical history of breathing disorders or lung issues or if you:

  • Are over 65 or are caring for a child under 5 with symptoms of a chest infection
  • Cough up blood or bloody mucus
  • Are pregnant
  • Have a chronic condition or weak immune system
  • Have a headache that gets steadily worse
  • Have symptoms that last longer than 3 weeks
  • Feel dizzy, confused, or disoriented
  • Have persistent pain in your chest or trouble breathing
  • Have been exposed to a certain infection and need further guidance (such as covid-19 or tuberculosis)

There are a few different medications your doctor may prescribe, including azithromycin, doxycycline, or amoxicillin for a chest infection that is determined to be bacterial in cause, or you are considered high risk for a bacterial infection.

Some types of infection and certain patients are particularly concerning. A chest infection in the very elderly or very young can quickly turn serious and even deadly. They may require more medical attention than the average person. A chest infection in patients with other lung diseases can put strain on already weak lungs. Also, cases where the patient has a compromised immune system due to HIV, cancer, chronic medical problems, or certain medications, can lead to more serious complications that require hospitalization.


To avoid chest infections, there are some preventative measures. Wash your hands frequently and avoid people who are ill. Keep your area and your child's toys clean. Avoid sharing food or drinks. Get recommended vaccinations, especially the yearly flu vaccine, or the pneumococcal vaccine when offered in childhood, and as an adult. The covid vaccine is now a very important vaccine to also get when recommended. Don't smoke and avoid secondhand smoke when possible.


Frequently Asked Questions

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How do you get a chest infection?

There are a variety of ways to get a chest infection. Most commonly, you have a bacterial or viral infection causing your chest infection which is due to coming in contact with an ill person. Occasionally, a chest infection develops as a complication of another disease or infection. Infections can move from other parts of your body into your pulmonary system.

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How do you know if you have a chest infection?

If you have several of the symptoms listed in our symptoms section, you may have a chest infection. The most common sign to look for is a cough that can be dry and or wet, tightness or pain in the chest, and difficulty breathing. You can schedule an appointment with our online doctors at any time to get a second opinion and official diagnosis.

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How do you get rid of a chest infection?

You can combine over-the-counter methods and medicine from the doctor to get over a chest infection. It's most important to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Steam can help your lungs feel clearer and ease your breathing. Warm drinks, especially tea with honey, can soothe your throat. Avoid medicines that suppress your cough. You may need to cough to clear mucus or phlegm out of your lungs.

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What's the difference between chest infection and asthma?

Asthma is a chronic condition that you live with daily. A chest infection is caused by bacteria or viruses. It's something you can get over, with proper care.

While both can produce similar symptoms ( wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness), infections come with more stereotypical signs of "being sick". These include fever, headache, chills, coughing up mucus, and sneezing.

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Do you get antibiotics for a chest infection?

Treatment varies, depending on what's causing your infection. Doctors may prescribe antibiotics for some, but not all, chest infections if they think the cause is a bacterial infection. If they think it’s caused by a virus, antibiotics won’t help-and their side effects can actually be harmful.

If your doctor does prescribe antibiotics, make sure to take the FULL course, even if you start to feel better. This makes sure that all traces of the bacteria are gone from your system. If you don't take the full course, you may get re-infected or get someone else sick. Even worse, the bacteria that is present may become resistant to that antibiotic in the future.

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How much amoxicillin is for chest infection?

The average recommended dose for a healthy adult is 250-500mg of amoxicillin every 8 hours, or 500-875 mg every 12 hours. However, your dosage may depend on several factors, including weight, medical history, and other factors. Only take amoxicillin as prescribed by your doctor.

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Can a sinus infection cause chest congestion?

A sinus infection can spread into other parts of your respiratory system, including into your chest. You may feel some symptoms in your chest, even if your illness started in your sinuses.

If you're concerned about the spread of a sinus infection, schedule an appointment to talk with one of our health care providers for treatment recommendations.

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Can a kidney infection cause chest pain?

Typically, no. If your chest pain is accompanied by any irregularities in your urine (burning, pain, cloudy, bloody, smelly, etc.), vomiting, or pain in your back/groin.side, you may have a kidney infection. Seek help from a health care provider.

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Can a tooth infection cause chest pain?

Yes. If you have a toothache and the pain has spread to your chest, you should seek medical help immediately for further evaluation. Infection in a tooth can spread through the bloodstream to the heart, causing a heart infection, or endocarditis A toothache or jaw pain can also be an early warning sign of a heart attack in some cases and not always a connection to a chest infection.

The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.