Chest infection, adult - Symptoms 

Symptoms of adult chest infection 

There are two main types of chest infection in adults: acute bronchitis and pneumonia, which is less common.

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.


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:

  • heart disease, where the blood supply to the heart is reduced
  • diabetes, where the body does not produce enough insulin or cannot make use of insulin in the right way
  • kidney disease, where the kidneys lose some of their ability to filter toxins out of the blood
  • asthma, where a number of substances, such as dust mites or pollen, can cause the lungs to become inflamed, leading to breathing difficulties
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease COPD), a general term for a group of lung conditions that cause serious breathing problems

Page last reviewed: 14/05/2012

Next review due: 14/05/2014


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The 5 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

PumPlexFlek said on 23 October 2013

Ive been having similar pains like a tightness on my chest and coughing constantly it feels like I need to cough up mucus but there is nothing it is more of a dry cough also the chest pain is quite bad iv had a pneumothorax (tear on my lung) a few years ago and had to spend a couple nights in hospital im worried about this happening again because I teared my lung last time through coughing and it was the worst experience of my life my neck and chest swelled like a balloon due to the air escaping my lung and into my body it feels like sponge when the skin is pressed you can feel the air bubbles popping which is not a nice feeling

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TreeHugger118 said on 02 August 2013

Hi, at the beginning of June I had a persistent chesty cough for around two weeks. However since then I have just been coughing up thick yellow mucus, but I no longer have the cough. Surely this means that it can't be a chest infection?

Any advice would be much appreciated :)

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Batfink1 said on 11 February 2013

I have read what you have written and it seems to me that you are not helping yourself by smoking. The amount you smoke is classed as quite heavy so it would be better if you considered stopping smoking. No wonder the doctor dismissed you as smoking causes coughs and chest problems. A healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables will help keep colds away.

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Kels1001 said on 22 October 2012

Hi i have same problem i had to physically ask my doctor to listen to my back and chest as id spent all weekend laying on my bed could hardly breath and was coughing so heavy have bruised my ribs. Thank god got anti biotics today.
Hopefully you have sorted your problem by now . If not get another doctor x

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MissEnvie said on 23 August 2012

Hi there,

I currently have the following symptoms with reference to the article: Sharp pain in upper right side of chest (for about 8 hours now), dry cough, coughing up mucas, and have coughed up from mouth/blew out form nose blood about 3 days ago for around 3 days. Prior to this i had the flu and that went, but the cough remained. It has been well over a month i have had this cough - maybe 8 weeks. I came back from the hospital just now as thats all thats open in my area and the Doctor who was busy seeing three other patients at the same time, said you havent coughed yet...mentioned he briefly went over the scans and all seemed fine. he sent me home with the advise to gargle salt water and smoke less. (I smoke around 15, 12miligram cigg's a day FYI)

i just dont feel like its nothing as i was told- its probably an after effect from your cold where the mucas is sticking to my throat causing tickle therefore a cough, heavy cough causing chest pain. Somehow i dont know if i agree, however he is the doctor?

Can you offer any advice. It wold be most appreciated.

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