What are chest infections?
A chest infection is an infection that affects your lungs or airways. The most common types of chest infections are pneumonia and bronchitis. You’re more at risk of getting a serious chest infection if you have asthma. The main symptoms of chest infections are:
- a chesty cough (you may cough up yellow or green phlegm)
- a high temperature (38 degrees Celsius or above)
- wheezing and shortness of breath
- chest pain or discomfort
- aching muscles
- a headache
How do chest infections affect asthma?
It’s important to see your GP if you think you have a chest infection and asthma because you could get more serious symptoms. Asthma causes inflammation in your airways. Chest infections can trigger your asthma because they make your airways even more inflamed.
Treating chest infections
Chest infection symptoms can be unpleasant, but they usually get better on their own in about 7 to 10 days. Your cough might last up to three weeks.
The treatment for your chest infection will depend on the cause of your chest infection. If you have a bacterial chest infection like pneumonia, you might be prescribed antibiotics.
The NHS has more information on treating chest infections, including practical things you can do yourself.
Managing your asthma with a chest infection
If you get a chest infection, remember to:
- Use a written asthma action plan, so that you know exactly what to do if you get asthma symptoms.
- Manage your asthma well. This means taking your preventer medicines every day as prescribed, even if you feel well.
- Always keep your reliever inhaler (usually blue) with you, so you can use it when you get symptoms.
Managing your asthma well will lower the chances of you having an asthma attack.
If your chest infection is making your asthma symptoms worse, you could also speak to your GP or asthma nurse about add on treatments, like oral steroids.
Get the most out of your inhalers
It’s really important to take your inhalers properly, so that the medicine gets straight to your lungs. Watch our short videos about how to use your inhaler properly.
How can I prevent chest infections?
There are a few things you can do to reduce your risk of getting a chest infection:
If you smoke, stopping smoking is one of the best things you can do to prevent chest infections. Ask your GP, asthma nurse or pharmacist for help to quit smoking. You can also read our advice about how to quit.
Avoid colds and flu
You might get a chest infection after having a cold or flu. Our page on colds, flu and asthma has lots of practical ideas you can follow to protect yourself against them.
Getting vaccinated can help you avoid chest infections:
Eating a balanced diet with the right vitamins and minerals can help to strengthen your immune system. This lowers your risk of developing chest infections.
Read more about eating well with a lung condition.
Drink less alcohol
If you drink alcohol, drinking too much alcohol over a long period of time can weaken your lungs and make you more likely to get a chest infection. Alcohol can also trigger your asthma.
You don’t have to avoid alcohol completely. The NHS recommend drinking less than 14 units spread throughout a week. You can use Alcohol Change UK’s unit calculator to see how many units are in your drinks.
Are chest infections contagious?
You can pass chest infections on through coughing and sneezing. It’s important to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. This will help keep you and the people around you safe. Wash your hands regularly using soap and water or a hand sanitiser.