Chest Cold

What is Chest Cold?

Chest cold is a term used to describe a medical condition cold acute bronchitis. It is a disease of the lower respiratory tract, which is often caused by a viral infection, but can also be caused by other forms of microorganisms.

This causes infection to the lungs especially the bronchus and bronchioles. The presence of infection in the airways causes the air passages to become inflamed leading to the presence of chest cold as manifested by presence of secretions or wet cough. Chest cold usually lasts up to 2 weeks.

Chest cold is very common among people, but it is especially prevalent during cold seasons. Infants, children and the elderly are most susceptible to chest colds because of weakened immune system.

Chest Cold Symptoms and Signs

The inflammation of the air passages in the lungs causes symptoms of chest cold. The symptoms tend to be more severe when it comes to extremes of age, having a poor general health status and presence of other co-morbid conditions. Symptoms include:

  • Productive cough yielding thick sputum – The most apparent symptom of chest cold is the presence of wet, loose cough. When the airways are inflamed, the goblet cells in the membranes produce thick and viscous mucus. As a result, the body tries to remove these through coughing. The phlegm may be whitish to yellowish. The presence of greenish phlegm should be evaluated because this may be due to more serious respiratory infection.
  • Chest congestion – The presence of thick and copious secretions causes congestion in the lungs especially when the patient is not able to expectorate them. Chest congestion is commonly seen in infants and children who are not able to effectively clear the airways.
  • Chest pain – The pain in the chest may also be due to the continuous coughing, which puts tension on the intercostals muscles leading to pain.
  • Fever – Fever is also a symptom of chest cold because of the presence of ongoing infectious process.
  • Fatigue – There is also presence of fatigue as a sign of infection.
  • Shortness of breath – The thick mucus in the airways prevents the oxygen from passing through the airways into the alveoli. As a result, the patient usually experiences difficulty of breathing.
  • Adventitious breath sounds – A health care provider usually auscultates rales or crackles in the lungs because of chest congestion with thick mucus secretions.
  • Sore throat – There is also sore throat in patients because of constant irritation due to coughing.

More serious symptoms should be watched out because it may indicate presence of hypoxia or low oxygenation of organs such as the brain. Serious symptoms may also indicate further infection. These include:

  • Decrease in the level of consciousness
  • High fever
  • Confusion
  • Harsh breathing
  • Rapid, labored breathing
  • Nasal flaring
  • Rapid pulse
  • Wheezing
  • Symptoms of more than 3 weeks

Causes of Chest Colds

Causes of chest cold include:

  • Viral infections such as Respiratory syncytial virus, influenza, adenovirus and parainfluenza virus
  • Bacterial infections, although rare

The causative microorganisms usually go into the lungs when there are risk factors that lead to a decrease in the immunity of the person, especially in the lungs. Risk factors include:

  • Exposure to respiratory pollutants
  • Smoking
  • Living in congested areas where infection easily spreads from person to person
  • Extremes of age (infants and the elderly)

Diagnosis of Chest Colds

Diagnosis of chest cold relies on physical examination indicating presence of congestion in the chest through auscultation. A chest X-ray may also be done to determine possible lung consolidation. Sputum cultures may be done to determine viral or bacterial causation.

chest congestion x ray

X – ray imaging shows chest congestion

Treatment of Chest Colds

The treatment of chest colds is usually supportive since viral infections are self-limiting, which means that it eventually goes away when the patient maintains a strong immune system. Treatments also aim to prevent pneumonia, which is more serious and difficult to treat. Managements include:

Antibiotic Therapy

Antibiotic therapy is rarely used, but it is indicated to patients with acute bronchitis caused by bacteria. Antibiotics are not given to patients with viral infection because it does not serve any purpose.

Administration of Bronchodilators

Bronchodilators are usually given to ease the breathing of the patient through dilating the airways. These can be administered via oral route or inhalation therapy.

Mucolytic and Expectorants

These medications are given to break the bond in the mucus making it looser and easier to expectorate.

Chest Physiotherapy

Chest physiotherapy involves techniques to enhance elimination of mucus through back tapping, chest vibration and postural drainage. These are usually ordered by a physician because it causes fatigue during the process. Back tapping involves the cupping of hands and striking it on the back to expel the mucus in the airways. Creating vibration in the chest with the use of the hands is also essential to increase the turbulence of air thereby enhancing expectoration. Postural drainage uses the pull of gravity to aid in expelling the mucus. The patient is positioned in the opposite side where the congestion is auscultated.

Oxygen Therapy

Oxygen therapy is also employed to supply the needed oxygen of the patient. Once the chest is cleared, it is often discontinued to allow the patient to breathe on his own.

Respiratory Support

For patients with thick secretions that cannot be removed, such as in the case of infants and adults who have altered mentation, suctioning may be required.

Chest Cold Home Remedies

There are also effective remedies in the home that will help patients with chest cold reduce symptoms and support the patient to increase the immune system. These include:

  • Steam inhalation to loosen secretions. Breathe into a pan of boiling water, stay inside a bathroom with hot shower or simply use commercial steamers.
  • Gargle with salt and water to relieve sore throat.
  • Increase fluid intake to at least 2 liters per day as tolerated to liquefy the secretions.
  • Drink thyme boiled in water to relax the lungs.
  • Consume chicken soup to relive cold symptoms and provide anti-inflammatory effect on the lungs.
  • Consume vitamin C rich foods or take Vitamin C supplements to increase the immune system.

Chest Cold Complications

  • Chest cold can progress to other respiratory condition when not treated promptly, such as:
  • Pneumonia
  • Respiratory distress
  • Hypoxia
  • Pleural effusion
  • Sepsis
  • Respiratory failure

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