What are chronic lung infections?
Lung infections are very common and are caused by viruses, bacteria and fungal organisms. Chronic lung (or pulmonary) infections affect the lower respiratory tract and can be very debilitating.
Causes of chronic lung infections
Chronic or recurrent chest infections can occur in one of the following circumstances:
- because the body is too weak to fight infection (for example, from an antibody deficiency)
- there is a structural damage to the lung (for example, from bronchiectasis)
- the infection is caused by a difficult organism (for example Pseudomonas, a mycobacterium or aspergillus fungus).
Symptoms of chronic lung infections
The most common symptom of a chronic lung infection is a persistent, severe cough. The sufferer will often bring up phlegm or mucus when coughing, and in the most severe cases, blood.
Some patients with recurring chest infections also experience some or all of the following symptoms:
- fever and sometimes sweats
- a tight feeling across the chest, or sometimes sharp stabbing pain (pleurisy)
- shortness of breath which may involve wheezing
Symptoms will vary in severity from person to person, but they can be effectively treated following diagnosis.
At Royal Brompton & Harefield Hospitals Specialist Care, the following consultants can treat private patients with chronic lung infections:
- Dr Ian Balfour-Lynn - Consultant in paediatric respiratory medicine
- Professor Michael Loebinger - Consultant respiratory physician, Clinical director for laboratory medicine
- Dr Mark Rosenthal - Consultant in paediatric respiratory medicine
- Professor Robert Wilson - Consultant physician in respiratory medicine.
Diagnosing chronic lung infections
If you have a persistent cough - particularly if you’re coughing up mucus - and are generally feeling very unwell, your doctor may suspect a chronic lung infection.
Your doctor will rule out a chest infection or asthma by listening to your chest using a stethoscope and carrying out a lung function test.
If there are signs of a lung infection, your doctor will typically order a chest x-ray to get a clear picture of the condition of your lungs.
Treatment for chronic lung infections
Chronic lung infections may need to be investigated – your phlegm will be cultured in hospital, blood tests will look at your immune function, and a CT scan will look at the structure of your lung.
Chronic lung infections can often be effectively treated with antibiotics, with patients usually responding well when the lung infection has been correctly diagnosed.
In more serious cases, a patient may need physiotherapy, to be taught exercises, and may need stronger intravenous antibiotics.