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Chest infection, adult - Symptoms of adult chest infection

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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Therre are two main types of chest infection in adults. Acute bronchitis, and, less common, pneumonia.

Acute bronchitis

Acute bronchitis is usually a mild illness that resolves itself without the need for medical treatment.

Symptoms of acute bronchitis include:

  • a persistent chesty cough
  • coughing up yellow or green phlegm (thick mucus)
  • breathlessness on exertion (above the usual level)
  • wheeziness
  • dry mouth
  • high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above (although in some people, such as the elderly, the temperature may fall)
  • headache
  • loss of appetite

The cough usually lasts seven to ten days, although it can persist for up to three weeks.

Acute bronchitis often causes headaches and a sense of feeling generally unwell. As well as being caused by the infection, these symptoms can also sometimes be caused by dehydration. It is therefore important to drink plenty of fluid.

Learn more in bronchitis.

Pneumonia

Common symptoms of pneumonia include:

  • difficulty breathing (breaths are rapid and shallow)
  • a cough that brings up phlegm (thick mucus)
  • rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • chest pain

Less common symptoms of pneumonia include:

  • coughing up blood
  • headaches
  • loss of appetite
  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • joint and muscle pain
  • a blue tinge to the skin (cyanosis)

Sometimes, elderly people with pneumonia may become confused and disorientated.

Learn more in pneumonia.

When to seek medical advice

If you suspect that you have pneumonia, you should see a GP.

The symptoms of acute bronchitis and pneumonia can be similar, but pneumonia symptoms are usually more severe.

See your GP if:

  • you have a high temperature (this is usually a sign of a more serious type of infection)
  • you feel so unwell that you are unable to manage and cope with your normal daily activities
  • you feel confused and disorientated
  • you experience symptoms of breathlessness when you are at rest, or you become more breathless than you would expect during physical activity
  • you have a sharp pain in your chest
  • you cough up blood-stained phlegm (thick mucus)
  • your symptoms last longer than three weeks
  • you have a weakened immune system due to another condition, such as HIV, or as the result of treatment, such as chemotherapy

Also contact your GP if you have a chronic (long-term) health condition that could make you more vulnerable to the effects of a chest infection such as:

Medical Review: May 12, 2012
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