Chest infection symptoms and treatment

Chest infections vary in severity - some clear up on their own while others can be life threatening.

An early diagnosis helps reduce the risk of needing urgent medical attention.

Find out what type of chest infection you have and get the right treatment today.

Written by Dr Sufian Ali and Professor Jeremy Brown. Reviewed by Dr Maheinthan Yogeswaran. Last reviewed on 01/03/2019. Next review date 24/09/2022.

Fast facts

What is a chest infection?

A chest infection can affect your windpipe, bronchi (the tubes taking air into the lungs), or the deeper parts of your lungs. The infection causes the affected part of the lung to become inflamed, which in turn can cause a buildup of fluid or mucus, sometimes making it difficult to breathe. Chest infections can be caused by viruses or bacteria.

Is a chest infection contagious?

Viral chest infections are contagious and are normally passed on through coughing or sneezing. You can catch a chest infection by breathing in the respiratory droplets of an infected person coughing or sneezing near you, or sometimes by touching your nose or mouth after touching an infected surface.


Chest infection signs and symptoms

You are likely to get the common cold 2-3 times per year. You may have a cough, runny nose, sore throat and a temperature. With rest, sleep and plenty of water, you should start feeling better within 10 days without needing antibiotics.

However, symptoms of the common cold, flu and more severe chest infections can overlap making it difficult to self-assess your condition. This guide can help you identify whether you have a chest infection and the differences between a mild and severe infection. We can help with:

What are the signs of a chest infection? And do you have severe chest infection symptoms?

How do you know if you have a chest infection?

The main symptoms that could indicate a chest infection are:

  • a persistent cough
  • coughing up yellow or green phlegm (mucus)
  • wheezing or shortness of breath
  • chest pain or tightness
  • a high temperature (fever)
  • a rapid heartbeat
  • a headache
  • muscle aches and pains
  • feeling ill and tiredness

What does a chest infection feel like?

Chest infections can feel similar to the common cold and the flu but symptoms are often worse and can lead to considerable discomfort. Signs of a chest infection can include coughing up yellow or green mucus, shortness of breath, chest pain, wheezing, a high fever, or rapid heartbeat.

Viral vs bacterial chest infection symptoms

Acute bronchitis (often viral) and pneumonia (often bacterial) are the two main types of chest infection. Viral and bacterial chest infections have overlapping symptoms but pneumonia causes more severe symptoms while acute bronchitis symptoms are milder and usually get better within a week. Symptoms that suggest pneumonia include:

  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain in one place when breathing in
  • high fever
  • feeling very ill

Possible complications of a chest infection

Acute bronchitis can sometimes develop into pneumonia.

Pneumonia can lead to serious health complications that require hospital treatment including:

  • Lack of oxygen – this can make you breathless and have blue discolouration to your lips.
  • Pleurisy – inflammation of the pleura (the lining around the outside of the lungs) that causes chest pain. This can get worse when you take a deep breath.
  • Septicaemia - bacteria spreading to and poisoning the blood, which can also cause low blood pressure and damage to the kidneys, brain, liver and heart.
  • Fluid around the affected lung (an effusion, which can become infected).

When should you see a doctor?

You should see a doctor if:

  • you suspect you have pneumonia
  • you have severe chest infection symptoms or feel very unwell
  • your symptoms are not improving
  • you cough up blood or bloody phlegm
  • your cough lasts more than 3 weeks
  • you have chest pain
  • you have difficulty breathing
  • you feel drowsy or confused

You should also see a doctor if you have a chest infection and any of the following applies:

  • you are pregnant
  • you are over 65
  • you have a long term health condition
  • you have a pre-existing heart, lung, liver or kidney condition
  • you have diabetes
  • you have a weakened immune system

If you think a child under 5 has a chest infection you should take them to see a GP. Learn more about chest infections in children.


The 2 main types of chest infection

Chest infection is an ambiguous term. It’s not a one size fits all health issue - different chest infections can be mild or severe and treatment can range from self-care to hospital admission.

The two most common chest infections are acute bronchitis and pneumonia. Acute bronchitis is often caused by viruses and can normally be treated at home. Pneumonia is often caused by bacteria and is a much more serious chest infection. We can help with:

Is your chest infection viral or bacterial? And what does this mean for you?

What is a viral chest infection?

A viral chest infection can affect healthy people with otherwise strong immune systems. Viruses account for 85 to 95% of cases of acute bronchitis and about 20% of pneumonia cases. Common viruses that cause chest infections are often the same as those that cause the common cold and the flu.

Viruses that cause most cases of acute bronchitis include:

  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus
  • Parainfluenza Virus
  • Influenza A and B

What is a bacterial chest infection?

A bacterial chest infection often affects people with underlying health conditions, including those with weaker immune systems and those with a recent viral respiratory infection. Bacterial infections are often the main cause of pneumonia, but can also cause acute bronchitis. Bacterial chest infections are usually prescribed treatment with antibiotics.

What is acute bronchitis?

Acute bronchitis is an infection of the bronchi - the main airways between the trachea and lungs. The infection is usually viral but can also be bacterial. It causes the bronchi to become inflamed and produce excess mucus. Common symptoms include coughing (to clear the mucus which is produced as phlegm), wheezing, shortness of breath or fever.

Early signs of acute bronchitis may appear to be the common cold or the flu, particularly in winter. Symptoms are usually mild and can often be managed at home. Although rare, acute bronchitis can turn into pneumonia - a more serious health condition. Acute bronchitis is not a direct cause of its namesake, chronic bronchitis.

Severe or chronic bronchitis, known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), is not caused by an infection. Instead, the lungs and airways become inflamed and damaged over time due to breathing in harmful substances. Smoking is the main cause of COPD, but other factors include occupational exposure to certain dusts and fumes.

What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia causes inflammation of the tiny air sacs (alveoli) in one or both lungs. The alveoli fill up with fluid or pus making it difficult to breathe. Common symptoms include coughing up phlegm (mucus), shortness of breath, fever and chest pain. Pneumonia is usually caused by a bacterial infection but can also be caused by a virus, or rarely by a fungus.

Early symptoms of pneumonia may be similar to the flu or bronchitis. However, pneumonia is more severe and can be life-threatening. If you suspect that you have pneumonia you should see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

What is the difference between bronchitis and pneumonia?

Acute bronchitis and pneumonia are the two most common chest infections. They share similar symptoms (mainly a productive cough) making it difficult to tell what condition you may have. If your symptoms are more severe it is likely you have developed pneumonia. You should see a doctor if you suspect you have pneumonia.


Get the best chest infection treatment

More than 400,000 people are diagnosed with pneumonia in the UK every year. Symptoms can develop slowly over several days but can also come on suddenly over 24 to 48 hours. Your health can deteriorate rapidly with pneumonia so treatment should be proactively managed by a doctor.

Acute bronchitis is the fifth most common reason why adults see their GP. However, many of these visits are unnecessary because acute bronchitis will usually clear up on its own and in most cases can be effectively managed at home. We can help with:

What is the best chest infection treatment? And are medicines or antibiotics right for you?

How to treat a chest infection

Five steps to help clear a chest infection:

  1. Get plenty of rest to help your body recover
  2. Drink lots of water to loosen the mucus so it is easier to cough up
  3. Take medication like paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower your fever and relieve headaches and muscle pains
  4. Elevate your head and chest at night with extra pillows to clear your chest of mucus
  5. Use your inhaler if you are asthmatic or have another lung condition to relax the muscles in your airways

There are other home remedies you can follow to help get rid of a chest infection.

Two things you should avoid if you have a chest infection:

  1. Avoid smoking, being around secondhand smoke or inhaling other irritants. Smoking aggravates symptoms and increases the risk of developing a more serious condition.
  2. Avoid taking cough medicines - there’s little evidence they help. Coughing helps you clear mucus from your lungs to get over the infection faster.

Does acute bronchitis go away without treatment?

Acute bronchitis usually goes away on its own without treatment if you have a viral infection. Most symptoms often clear up within 7 to 10 days but the cough and mucus may continue for up to 3 weeks. Antibiotic treatment for viral bronchitis is not effective. However, if you have bacterial bronchitis, antibiotics may be prescribed.


Coughing up green thick phlegm rather than colourless thin phlegm could indicate there is a bacterial infection.

What is the best antibiotic for a chest infection?

Antibiotics do not work on viral infections (like acute bronchitis) but may be prescribed for bacterial infections (like pneumonia). Mild cases of pneumonia can be treated with oral antibiotic tablets taken at home. More serious cases require admission to hospital for antibiotics (sometimes given intravenously), oxygen, and infusion of fluids.

The typical antibiotic prescribed for a chest infection is amoxicillin (a type of penicillin). If you are allergic to amoxicillin, alternatives can be used like clarithromycin or doxycycline. It is important to always take the full course of antibiotics even if you start to feel better; a five day course should be sufficient for pneumonia and bacterial bronchitis.

Antibiotics may result in side effects including:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • rashes

How to diagnose pneumonia in adults?

To diagnose pneumonia your GP may ask:

  • what symptoms you have and how severe they are
  • if you feel breathless, have difficulty breathing or if you are breathing faster than normal
  • if you have a cough, if you cough up mucus and what colour it is
  • if you have chest pain and if it is worse when you breathe in and out
  • if you feel drowsy or confused
  • when your symptoms started

Your GP may also run other tests like:

  • listen to your lungs with a stethoscope to check for crackling or whistling
  • listen to your chest by tapping on it to see whether your lungs are filled with fluid
  • take your temperature with a thermometer
  • measure the amount of oxygen in your blood with a pulse oximeter (finger probe)
  • measure how quickly you can blow out air from your lungs (known as your peak flow) with a spirometer

If you have more severe pneumonia, you may need:

  • a chest X-ray to determine where the infection is in your lungs, and to help distinguish between bronchitis and pneumonia
  • a sputum culture to analyse the mucus you cough up for specific bacteria
  • blood tests to measure your infection and inflammation markers
  • oxygen to increase supply to the lungs
  • fluids to help with rehydration

You can find your nearest clinic to see a Medicspot doctor today or learn more about how we can help with chest infections.

What is the best treatment for pneumonia?

Treatment for pneumonia depends on your age, overall health, and severity of symptoms. Although there is a plethora of information available online with self-help information on diagnosis and treatment, you should see a doctor if you suspect you have pneumonia. Some mild cases of pneumonia can be treated at home with antibiotic medicine but this should be at the direction of your doctor.


Home remedies for chest infections

Acute bronchitis usually requires no medical treatment, as antibiotics do not work on viral infections and even if there is a bacteria cause the body can clear the infection itself most of the time. To relieve symptoms and improve your wellbeing, there are a number of helpful chest infection remedies you can try at home.

There are many natural remedies for chest infections floating around on the web - some tried and tested, others wacky and weird. This guide collates those that have been supported by leading institutions like the NHS and Mayo Clinic. We can help with:

Do natural chest infection remedies work? And what home remedies should you try?

What remedy is good for sore throats?

7 ways to soothe a sore throat:

  • rest your voice
  • drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration and keep the throat moist
  • drink hot water, lemon and honey (not for small children)
  • gargle warm, salty water (not for small children)
  • eat soft or cool foods
  • suck ice cubes, ice lollies or hard sweets (not for small children due to choking risk)
  • avoid smoking or similar irritants

Simple hot lemon and honey recipe:

  1. Boil a kettle and pour hot water into a mug
  2. Cut a lemon in half and squeeze into the mug - make sure to keep the seeds out
  3. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of honey to the mixture and stir well - drink while warm

How do you get the mucus out of your lungs?

You can use an air humidifier as a home remedy to loosen the mucus in your airways. This will make it easier to cough up phlegm. You can also sit in a steamy bathroom for several minutes as a de-facto humidifier.

Best natural home remedies for chest infections

3 natural remedies for chest infections include:

  • Inhale steam from a bowl of hot water (not for small children due to scalding risk). The added moisture helps break down mucus. Menthol crystals can be added to the water to help decongest.
  • Drink hot peppermint tea. Peppermint contains menthol that helps thin mucus.
  • Wear a face mask or a scarf if cold outside as cold air may cause shortness of breath.

What food is good for a chest infection?

You may lose your appetite if you feel unwell or produce a lot of mucus. It is important to maintain a healthy diet with all the nutrients you need to keep your body strong. Certain foods can help reduce the severity of your symptoms and give you the vitamins you need to fight the infection.

Some foods help with chest infections:

  • wholegrain carbohydrates like bread, pasta and rice are the easiest form of energy to digest
  • soups and yoghurts help soothe throat pain

How to regain strength after pneumonia?

Pneumonia recovery tips:

  • rest to reduce fatigue
  • eat a well-balanced, healthy diet
  • practice deep breathing exercises
  • slowly increase exercise activity as you begin to recover
  • call 03000 030 555 to get advice and support from the British Lung Foundation


Chest infection recovery time

Recovery time is dependent on the type of chest chest infection you have, the severity of your symptoms, your age and your overall health. There is no set rule for how long your chest infection will last but there are guiding principles based on historical data and national averages.

Pneumonia is a more serious chest infection than acute bronchitis. Many severe health conditions take longer to recover from than minor conditions - the same applies here. We can help with:

How long does a chest infection last? And how long will it take you to recover?

How long does it take to recover from acute bronchitis?

Acute bronchitis usually clears up on its own within a few weeks. You may find that your cough lasts several weeks after other symptoms have passed. You should see a doctor if you cough lasts longer than 3 weeks or if your fever lasts longer than a week. The duration of acute bronchitis can vary depending on your age, the severity of symptoms and overall health condition.

Percentage of people by [acute bronchitis cough duration]:

Less than 2 weeks
2 to 4 weeks
More than 4 weeks

How long does it take to recover from pneumonia?

Common stages of pneumonia recovery:

| Recovery time | Prognosis| |--------------- |----------------------------------------------------------------------- | | 2 days | your temperature should start to settle after 48 hours of antibiotics | | 1 week | your fever should be gone | | 4 weeks | your chest pain and mucus production should be substantially reduced | | 6 weeks | your cough and breathlessness should be substantially reduced | | 3 months | most symptoms should be gone but you may still feel very tired | | 6 months | you should feel back to normal |

What to expect when recovering from pneumonia?

Your doctor will probably schedule a follow up appointment to check on your recovery. You should see your doctor again if your symptoms do not begin to improve within 3 days of starting antibiotics, if they get worse or are slow to disappear. Some people may need an X-ray 6 weeks after they started their course of antibiotics to check that the infection has completely gone.

Recovery time for pneumonia varies from person to person. You can take steps to improve recovery time like deep breathing exercises and slowly increasing activity levels. Pneumonia is a serious lung disease and can take time to get fully better. Most people fully recover from pneumonia, but it can lead to complications and death. Elderly people or those with pre-existing health conditions are most at risk of severe complications of pneumonia.

How long is pneumonia treated with antibiotics for?

In most cases, a 5 day course of antibiotics is sufficient and will be more successful if the course is completed. You should always complete the full course of antibiotics even if you start to feel better. Bacterial pneumonia can become resistant and may come back if you stop taking the antibiotics before the course ends.

Hospital treatment may involve two different antibiotics at the same time. In some cases, your doctor may increase the course length of your first antibiotic or prescribe a different antibiotic to kill the infection.

What is recurrent pneumonia?

Recurrent pneumonia is defined as two (or usually more) episodes of pneumonia in a lifetime. Each episode will have been at least 1 month apart with an X-ray having visibly confirmed the infection had gone after the previous episode. It can be difficult distinguishing between ‘persistent’ and ‘recurrent’ pneumonia if there is a lack of serial X-rays.


Know what causes a chest infection

Pneumonia accounts for more than 5% of all deaths in the UK every year. You can make small lifestyle changes to strengthen your immune system and help prevent this deadly disease. From good hygiene to a balanced diet, your decisions can help stave off infection.

Smoking massively increases the chances of getting a chest infection, and once you have a chest infection smoking also aggravates the infection and worsens your condition. It’s important to learn what causes a chest infection so you can make the right choices to reduce the risk of developing one. We can help with:

How are chest infections caused? And what can you do to reduce the risk of getting one?

What causes a chest infection?

Chest infections are mainly caused by a virus or bacteria that affects the airways or lungs making it difficult to breathe. You can catch a chest infection from an infected person coughing or sneezing or from touching the same surface as an infected person. Chest infections are more common during autumn and winter.

Some groups of people are more susceptible to developing a chest infection:

  • babies and very young children
  • elderly people
  • pregnant women
  • people who smoke
  • people with long term chest problems
  • people with a weakened immune system
  • people with pre-existing long term health conditions

Can vaping cause acute bronchitis?

Smoking makes acute bronchitis or pneumonia much more likely. Smoking damages your lungs so can aggravate symptoms of acute bronchitis, increase the chance of a chest infection and increase the risk of developing COPD. Vaping is also likely to have a similar effect but not enough is known about it as yet. Research on vaping and its impact on respiratory infections is limited but the Lung Institute does not recommend vaping for anyone.

It is important to stop smoking if you have a chest infection or lung disease. When you stop smoking it can be a great opportunity to quit smoking completely. The NHS has two useful resources to help stop smoking altogether:

How is pneumonia caused?

Pneumonia can be caused by:

  • Bacteria (like Streptococcus pneumoniae). Bacterial infections are the most common cause of pneumonia.
  • A virus (like the Respiratory syncytial virus or Influenza type A or B), known as viral pneumonia. Viral infections are common causes of pneumonia in young children.
  • Fungi (like Pneumocystis jirovecii). Fungal infections are rare unless someone has a very weakened immune system.
  • Choking on food or breathing in vomit can cause what is known as aspiration pneumonia.
  • Being in intensive care on a breathing machine allows bacteria to enter the lungs more easily, and this can cause what is known as ventilator-associated pneumonia.
  • People being treated in a hospital or having an operation are often not very mobile and less able to clear their chest. This can lead to what is called a hospital-acquired pneumonia.

What bacteria causes pneumonia?

Streptococcus pneumoniae is the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia. There are more than 90 different strains of this bacteria - some more severe than others. Streptococcus pneumoniae causes a pneumococcal infection which can be non-invasive (like bronchitis), partially invasive (like pneumonia), or highly invasive (like septicaemia, septic arthritis, or meningitis).

Pneumococcal vaccines are available to help protect against certain Streptococcus pneumoniae strains. These are given to:

  • children (learn more)
  • people aged 65 or over
  • other adults at high risk of pneumonia due to underlying chronic diseases

The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV) is used in adults and protects against 23 strains; it is given once only (although some doctors suggest booster doses every 5 years in the elderly).

Other bacteria that can cause pneumonia include:

  • Haemophilus influenzae
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Moraxella catarrhalis
  • Streptococcus pyogenes
  • Klebsiella pneumoniae

How to prevent a chest infection?

To prevent a chest infection, you should:

  • ask a GP about the annual flu vaccination - see if you are eligible for the free vaccine
  • ask a GP about the pneumococcal vaccine
  • wash your hands after touching surfaces possibly colonised with bacteria
  • stop smoking if you smoke
  • avoid exposure to secondhand smoke or other irritants
  • eat a healthy, balanced diet to help strengthen your immune system
  • stay within the recommended alcohol unit guidance of 14 units a week to reduce the risk of a weakened immune system

If you already have acute bronchitis or pneumonia, make sure to:

  • cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze
  • dispose of any used tissues immediately
  • wash your hands with soap regularly


For parents: chest infection in children

Children coughing is usually a result of mucus trickling down their throats – not a chest infection. Providing your child is eating and drinking normally, and they aren’t wheezing, coughing is usually no cause for concern.

If you suspect your child might have a chest infection, there are signs to look out for and some effective ways to make your child feel better again quickly. We can help with:

What are the signs of your child having a chest infection? And how are chest infections in children treated?

Signs of chest infection in children and toddlers

If you are worried that your child might have a chest infection, here are a few tell-tale signs to look out for:

  • coughing and vomiting with coughing
  • difficulties breathing
  • problems with feeding or drinking
  • change in skin colour
  • drowsiness

Children under 2 years old are susceptible to bronchiolitis. Learn more about bronchiolitis


If your child has been experiencing these symptoms for more than 3 weeks, you should take them to see a GP.

Can children pass on a chest infection?

Many parents worry if their child’s chest infection might be infectious before sending them to school. Chest infections (especially those caused by viruses) can be passed on between children. However, it is generally advised for a child to go to school if they only have a minor cough and mild chest infection.

If your child’s chest infection is accompanied by a more severe cough or fever, you should keep them home until their symptoms start to improve.


Make sure your child knows to cover their mouth when they cough and throw away any used tissues straight away to prevent further spreading of their chest infection.

How to treat chest infections in children?

Treating chest infections in children depends on whether their infection is bacterial or viral. Your GP will be able to make an assessment on their type of chest infection. However, it can sometimes be difficult to pin down the cause of infection in young children as their condition can change rapidly.

Treatment may include:

  • Antibiotics. If your child has a bacterial chest infection, your GP might prescribe them with child-friendly antibiotics such as amoxicillin, usually for 3 or 5 days. It is important that your child completes the full course, even if they start feeling better before it ends.
  • Painkillers. Paracetamol and ibuprofen are a safe and effective way of relieving symptoms. Make sure to read the label carefully and make sure you are giving your child the correct dose.
  • Make sure your child gets plenty of rest.
  • Give your child plenty of water to drink. This helps to clear the mucus in their throat.
  • If they’re not eating then ensure they get enough calories by giving them flat, sugary drinks.
  • Breathing in steam. For older children, breathing in steam from a bowl of hot water can help relieve their symptoms. For younger children, try taking them into the bathroom while the shower is running, being careful to prevent the hot water from scalding them.

It’s also worth noting that if your child has a chest infection with a fever, you should avoid wrapping them up in extra layers of clothing or blankets. Instead giving your child paracetamol or ibuprofen will help to regulate their body temperature.

While you might be tempted to sponge your child with water to help cool them down, this can sometimes cause distress or make them shiver, which in turn raises their body temperature. However, if your child responds well, sponging with lukewarm water can help to bring their temperature down a little.


Treatment for chest infections in children might not be appropriate for babies. You can learn more on how to treat chest infections in babies.

How long does a chest infection last in children?

The infection itself can last between 7 to 10 days in children. However, your child might still have a cough from the chest infection for up to 3 weeks. It can sometimes be difficult for your child to cope with a chest infection for this long. Read our tips on how to treat chest infection in children to help relieve some of your child’s symptoms.

When to take your child to see a GP?

You should take your child to see a GP if your child:

  • is under 5 and you suspect they have a chest infection
  • has a cough that is causing them pain or making them breathless
  • is feeling very unwell or their symptoms are getting worse
  • has a weakened immune system, e.g. from diabetes or chemotherapy
  • has a long-term health condition

When you take your child to see a GP, they will be able to examine your child by listening to their lungs using a stethoscope and monitoring their oxygen levels. The doctor will then be able to make an assessment on what type of chest infection your child has and provide them with the right treatment.

How to prevent chest infections in children?

Chest infections in children can sometimes be difficult to prevent. However, there are some things you can do to reduce the chances of your child getting a chest infection. This includes:

  • Avoiding smoking in the home or around your child. Inhaling secondhand cigarette smoke has been shown to be a major risk factor for chest infections in children.
  • Ensure your child is up to date with their vaccines. Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (known as PCV) is given to all children as part of their routine immunisations. This vaccine is administered in three separate doses: at 16 weeks, 1 year and 8 years old.
  • Ensure your child has the annual flu vaccine.

To stay updated with your child’s vaccinations, the NHS provides a useful resource where you can find out more about when your child will be receiving their vaccinations throughout their childhood.


For parents: Chest infection in babies

It can be very worrying for parents when their babies catch a chest infection. However, with lots of love and care, your baby should quickly start feeling better again.

There are some things that parents can do to help their babies overcome a chest infection but treatment for babies often requires close attention. We can help with:

How to tell if your baby has chest infection? And how to help your baby’s cough?

How can I help my baby’s cough?

There are some things that you can do to help your baby’s cough. This includes:

  • Making sure your baby gets plenty of rest.
  • Giving your baby extra breastfeeding or bottle feeding to help them get the fluids they need to fight off the infection.
  • Breathing in steam can help relieve a baby’s cough. Try taking your baby into the bathroom while the shower is on, being very careful to keep your baby away from the hot water to prevent them from getting burned.
  • Babies are nasal breathers so a blocked nose can be troublesome. Tickling their nostrils with tip of a tissue can make them sneeze. The natural remedy for a blocked nose!
  • Infant paracetamol or infant ibuprofen, making sure to give the correct dose. Infant paracetamol can be given to babies from 2 months old if they weigh at least 4 kg and were born after 37 weeks. Infant ibuprofen can be given to babies from 3 months old if they weigh at least 5 kg.

How to tell if your baby has a chest infection?

Signs that your baby may have a chest infection:

  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • breathing differently or fast
  • indrawing of the flesh between the ribs when breathing
  • difficulty feeding
  • exhaustion

Sometimes, babies with a chest infection will also have a fever but this isn’t always the case.

How long does a chest infection last in babies?

The infection itself tends to clear up between 5 and 7 days but the accompanying cough might persist for a little while longer. Understandably, this can seem like a long time. Read our advice on how to treat chest infection in babies to help relieve some of your baby’s symptoms.

How to treat a chest infection in babies?

If your baby has a viral chest infection, this will usually clear up on its own without intervention. If your baby has a bacterial chest infection, your GP might prescribe antibiotics to help fight the infection. Some infections will respond better to antibiotics than others, your doctor will be able to make an assessment on the best treatment for your baby.

If your baby is over the age of 1, you could try giving them a warm drink of lemon and honey to help with their coughing. Watch this video to find out how this is made.

How to prevent chest infections in babies?

Chest infections can sometimes be difficult to prevent, but there are some things you can do to reduce the chances of your baby catching a chest infection. One way is to make sure your baby is up to date with all of their routine immunisations. This should help to prevent your baby from catching infections such as whooping cough. Another is to avoid smoking in the home or around your child as this is a major risk factor for chest infections in children.

To stay updated with your baby’s routine immunisations, the NHS provides a handy timeline of vaccinations required for your baby and throughout their childhood.

What is bronchiolitis?

Bronchioles are the small tubes in the lungs that control the flow of air. Bronchiolitis is inflammation of the bronchioles caused by the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). The inflammation restricts air flow making it difficult to breathe. Early bronchiolitis symptoms are usually similar to symptoms of the common cold, including a cough, fever, and blocked or runny nose.

Symptoms often get worse over a few days before showing signs of improvement. Further symptoms of bronchiolitis can include:

  • a rasping, persistent dry cough
  • wheezing
  • brief pauses when breathing
  • being irritable
  • difficulty feeding or feeding less
  • vomiting after feeding
  • having fewer wet nappies

Bronchiolitis is a common infection that affects babies and young children under 2 years old. Approximately 1 in 3 children will have developed bronchiolitis in the UK by the age of 1. There is no medication to treat bronchiolitis - the infection usually clears up on its own within 2 weeks. Most children can be cared for at home as you would the common cold.

Approximately 2-3% of babies with bronchiolitis require hospitalisation. Dangerous symptoms in babies and children include:

  • your baby has difficulty breathing
  • your baby’s lips or tongue are blue
  • long pauses in your baby’s breathing


If your baby has any of these dangerous symptoms, call 999 immediately.

When to see a GP about chest infection in babies?

If your baby is turning blue or is breathing irregularly, take them to see a GP urgently. As a general rule, you should take your baby to see a GP as an urgent matter if they are under 3 months old and their temperature rises above 38°C or if they are 3 to 6 months old and have a temperature of over 39°C.


What to do: chest infection when pregnant

Unfortunately, there is no way to avoid a chest infection when pregnant. In fact, women are somewhat more prone to catching a chest infection while pregnant.

The good news is that a chest infection generally will not cause any harm to your baby. We can help with:

How to clear a chest infection while pregnant? And how can you prevent a chest infection when pregnant?

How to clear a chest infection when pregnant?

It may take a little longer for your chest infection to clear as changes to your immune system occur during pregnancy. This largely depends on the type of chest infection that you have. If you have a bacterial chest infection, your GP might prescribe you with suitable antibiotics for pregnancy to help fight your infection. Some antibiotics have to be avoided in pregnancy (for example tetracyclines such as doxycycline); but amoxicillin is safe.

For advice and things you can try at home, learn how to get rid of a chest infection at home.

What can I take for a chest infection when pregnant?

Painkillers like paracetamol are considered safe during pregnancy and can help relieve the symptoms of a chest infection. It is also safe to apply some Vicks chest rub to help speed up your recovery.

Speak with your GP who will be able to examine your chest and provide you with relevant treatment.

Is it dangerous to have a cough while pregnant?

Having a cough while pregnant, whether it be from a chest infection or cold and flu, generally will not cause harm to your baby. Your baby is safely protected by your amniotic fluid which helps to absorb the shock of a hard cough.

Despite being a common myth that coughing hard can cause a miscarriage, this isn’t something you should worry about.

When to see a GP about a chest infection when pregnant?

If you are pregnant and suspect that you might have a chest infection, you should visit your GP. They will be able to examine you by listening to your lungs and monitoring your oxygen levels. If there is evidence to suggest your chest infection is bacterial, your GP might prescribe you with some suitable antibiotics for pregnancy to help fight your infection.

How can I prevent chest infections when pregnant?

It is difficult to prevent chest infections during pregnancy as pregnant women are at a slightly higher risk due to the changes to the immune system that undergo during pregnancy. However, there are some things that you can do to reduce your chances of getting a chest infection when pregnant. This includes:

  • Following good personal hygiene (like washing hands).
  • Quitting smoking. This is a major contributing factor to developing a chest infection and smoking can also harm your unborn baby.
  • Resting often.
  • Drinking plenty of fluids.
  • Eating a balanced, healthy diet, full of plenty of fruit and vegetables.
  • Getting vaccinated for the flu. This can be done at any point during your pregnancy. Speak to your GP for more information about getting your vaccine.


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Our private doctors can help diagnose your chest infection and provide expert treatment and advice. Find out what chest infection you may have and start feeling better today. We can help with:

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How it works

The Medicspot diagnostic station allows doctors to remotely listen to your chest, measure your oxygen levels, and take your temperature to effectively diagnose your condition.

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About the authors

Written by Dr Sufian Ali and Professor Jeremy Brown. Reviewed by Dr Maheinthan Yogeswaran. Last reviewed on 01/03/2019. Next review date 01/03/2022.

Dr Sufian Ali

Dr Sufian Ali is a Medicspot GP based in the West of Scotland, having attended Aberdeen Medical School and completed his GP training in Glasgow. He has enjoyed working in a number of specialties including paediatrics, psychiatry and emergency medicine; while also working in a variety of settings.

Professor Jeremy Brown

Professor Brown qualified as a doctor in 1988 and has been a consultant respiratory physician at University College London Hospitals since 2003. He has a particular interest in lung infection, an area in which he has published many research and review articles. As well as his clinical practice he leads a research group at University College London investigating how pneumonia develops and new vaccines and other approaches to prevent lung infections.

Dr Maheinthan Yogeswaran

Dr Maheinthan Yogeswaran qualified as a doctor from Aberdeen Medical School in 2007. He subsequently trained as a GP and now works as a GP for Medicspot alongside an NHS practice in Essex. He has a wide spectrum of experience; notably in palliative care. Dr Yogeswaran also works on training future generations of GPs as a GP trainer.


This article is for general information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Medic Spot Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. In the event of an emergency, please call 999 for immediate assistance.