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Things to know About Your Immune Systten in Winter:
- Viral, bacterial, or fungal? Understanding your chest infection and how to combat it
- 5 Anti-Inflammatory Solutions to Fight off Chest Infections
- Natural solutions or antibiotics? Taking the fight to acute bronchitis
Acute bronchitis (also known as a chest cold) is a common infection, which attacks the airways to your lungs. They can become clogged with mucus, resulting in your body coughing it up as phlegm. This persistent cough is often accompanied by a runny nose, headaches, a tight chest, wheezing, and fatigue.
More often than not, bronchitis is caused by a viral infection which will render antibiotics ineffective: antibiotics are designed to fight bacterial infections and not viral infections, which have a different structure and replicate differently. There are antivirals you can take to help manage a viral infection such as the flu, however vitamin C supplementation can be considered a worthy alternative, too. A review of studies published in 2013, said that vitamin C may reduce the duration and severity of colds. A group who took vitamin C regularly recovered more quickly than those who didn’t, and the severity of their infections improved.
Of course, often the best treatment is to wrap up warm, drink plenty of fluid, take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) if you need them, and let your immune system do the work.
NHS Choices advises that you should see a doctor if you have a particularly severe cough that lasts for more than three weeks, if you’ve had a fever for at least three days, your phlegm contains blood, or if there’s an underlying lung or heart condition.
Chronic bronchitis is a long-term condition, with the same symptoms as acute bronchitis, but are either recurring or perhaps permanent. It can be caused by smoking, or as a result of long periods of breathing in fumes or dust. Obviously, cessation of the activities that caused it are essential to recovery.
Although these infections are usually viral, if your doctor suspects your infection is bacterial, then antibiotics may help — it’s worth knowing that 5% of bronchitis cases lead to pneumonia. So, should you be suffering from bronchitis, it really is worth getting it checked out as soon as possible.
Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs — the symptoms are very similar to a nasty cold or flu: high temperature, sweating and shivering, and coughing up mucus. Pneumonia can be caused by a virus, bacteria or, occasionally, by fungi. Fast breathing, chest pains, and confusion are signs of a severe infection.
Antibiotics are often used to treat bacterial pneumonia and, if your infection is very bad, you may need to go into hospital for monitoring, and be put on a drip. Rest and a high fluid intake is important. If medics suspect that your symptoms are caused by a viral or fungal infection then alternative treatments can be explored, such as oxygen therapy which can help patients to breathe should they have difficulties.
Aspergillosis is a fungal infection that usually affects the respiratory system, although it can cause problems in other parts of the body too. A mild infection might result in wheezing, but a more serious infection may leave you coughing up blood. Spores of aspergillus mould are airborne, and people with a weakened immune system might develop an infection from breathing the spores in. Indeed, it is not uncommon for some to develop an allergic reaction to the mould.
Aspergillosis is the name for the group of diseases that can stem from an aspergillus infection, with other respiratory conditions such as asthma potentially becoming more problematic, too.To combat this, you may have to undergo a series of tests to identify exactly what’s happening and to discern the best course of treatment.
The differences between viruses, bacteria, and fungi
The key difference between viral, bacterial, and fungal infections is how they respond to antibiotics. Antibiotics kill some bacteria, and they are ineffective against viruses. However, antibiotics can make fungal infections worse. So, clearly It would help to know which micro-organism you’re dealing with.
Viral and bacterial infections are contagious, while fungal infections are not usually contagious — serious fungal infections that are systematic usually only affect people with compromised immune systems, they are opportunistic and can be life-threatening. The more common infections however, such as thrush or athlete’s foot, are very easily treatable.
How chest infections spread
Viral and bacterial infections can be spread by shaking hands, touching door handles or elevator buttons, or by small droplets passing through the air when you cough or sneeze.
Who’s most at risk?
Chest infections tend to be more prevalent in the colder months. This may be because some people’s immune systems are weakened by cold weather, and through some viruses developing a protective coating during this time — making them more resilient. Colds and flu viruses can further weaken your immune system, and lead to secondary infections, such as bronchitis or pneumonia.
Chest infections are more common in the elderly: our immune systems become less robust as we age. Chest infections are also more common in babies and toddlers, youngsters with developmental problems, asthmatics, and those with a weak immune system due to illness, chemotherapy, or HIV. People with a history of heart problems, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, or lung or kidney disease may also be at risk. Being overweight, pregnant, or a smoker can make you more susceptible, too.
Some chest infections can be fatal, so it’s important to check with your doctor about appropriate treatments. You may want to use natural treatments as adjuncts to your doctor’s recommendations, but only if they agree this makes sense. Do check for interactions between supplements and any medicines they prescribe.
Natural treatments for mild bronchitis include garlic and onion, as they have antibacterial and antiviral properties. Supplements such as oregano oil capsules or olive leaf extract have antimicrobial properties and may be beneficial, too. A multi-vitamin and mineral will support your immune system, but the most important thing, is to eat healthily and rest.
The best defence is always prevention, so avoid smoking, wash your hands frequently, and if you’re high risk (asthmatic, for instance), consider having a flu vaccination to prevent flu and the risk of contracting secondary chest infections. Keep a sensible distance from people who are coughing or sneezing.
Vaccines are available for the most serious types of bacterial pneumonia, and high-risk patients may request this vaccine.
If you have a weakened immune system, it may be sensible to avoid places where mould spores are at their highest, such as rotting vegetation, compost heaps, and bogs.