Chronic Lung Infection

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

Chronic lung infections occur either because the body is too weak to fight infection (e.g. antibody deficiency), there is a structural damage to the lung (e.g. bronchiectasis), or the infection is caused by a a difficult organism (e.g. Pseudomonas, a mycobacterium or aspergillus fungus).

Symptoms

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 a chronic lung infection 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
  • Fatigue

Symptoms will vary in severity from person to person, but they can be effectively treated following diagnosis.

Diagnosis

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. He/she 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 GP will typically order a chest x-ray to get a clear picture of the condition of your lungs.

Treatment

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.