The lower respiratory tract includes the Trachea, Primary Bronchi, and the Lungs. Any infections that occur in your lungs or below your voice box are lower respiratory tract infections. Sometimes people use the term to refer to Pneumonia, but it can also be applied to other types of infection. A lower respiratory tract infection can affect the air sacs around the end of the airways (such as pneumonia) or the airways (such as bronchitis). The most common lower respiratory tract infections are:
- Bronchitis is a condition where the lining of your bronchial tubes is inflamed. It usually develops from a cold or other respiratory infection. While acute bronchitis is very common and usually improves within a week without any lasting effects. Chronic bronchitis is more serious and happens when there’s constant inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes.
- Pneumonia happens when the air sacs in one or both of your lungs are inflamed by an infection. It can be caused by various organisms, such as fungi, viruses, and bacteria. The condition ranges from mild to life-threatening. In infants, young children, and the elderly, pneumonia is a very serious condition.
- Tuberculosis mainly affects your lungs. It is an infectious disease that is spread through tiny droplets released into the air via sneezes and coughs. Tuberculosis can also spread to other parts of the body, such as the spine and the brain. It is caused by a bacteria known as Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
The symptoms of lower respiratory tract infections vary depending on the severity of the infection. When your condition is less severe, you can have symptoms similar to the common cold, such as:
- Mild sore throat
- Low fever
- Dry cough
- A runny or stuffed-up nose
However, in more severe infections, you will experience the following symptoms:
- Rapid breathing
- Pain in your chest
- Blue tint in the skin
- Breathing difficulty
- Severe cough that can produce phlegm
If you feel you have the symptoms above, or your symptoms keep getting worse over time, you need to make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
Some people confuse their symptoms with upper respiratory tract infections symptoms. You can tell the difference by knowing where the symptoms occur. If you have upper respiratory infections, you will feel the symptoms above your necks, such as sore throats, headaches, and sneezing. However, flu can be lower or upper respiratory tract infection.
The main causes of lower respiratory tract infections are:
- Bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus
- Mycoplasma, which are small organisms that has the characteristic of viruses and bacteria
- Fungal infections
- Viruses, such as the flu or respiratory syncytial virus
There are also cases in which substances from the environment irritate and cause inflammation to the lungs or airways and this will result in an infection. These substances are dust, chemicals, allergens, air pollution, cigarette smoke, vapors, and fumes. Aside from substances from the environment, you are more likely to develop a lower respiratory tract infection if you fall under any of the following risk factors, including:
- Weakened immune system
- Aged over 65 years old
- Aged under 5 years old
- Recently had surgery
- Recently had flu or cold
Some less severe lower respiratory tract infections can go away without any treatment. The following are some home remedies you can use to treat your symptoms at home.
- Plenty of rest. Your body needs some downtime when you’re fighting an infection. It is essential for you to take a day or two off work or from your normal routine to let your body heal. To maintain a healthy immune system, you need adequate sleep because when you are sleep-deprived, you are more vulnerable to cold viruses.
- Drinks plenty of fluid. When you’re battling a lower respiratory tract infection, you need to stay hydrated as it can help thin out mucus. Also, when you experience a fever, you may be dehydrated. Make sure to replace lost fluids with warm liquids. Water, soups, and herbal teas can increase your liquid intake. You can try having ginger tea or add honey to lemon water. Remember to avoid caffeine and alcohol.
- Over–the-counter medicine. Your treatment plan should involve some antibiotic, antifungal, or antiviral medications. However, it is important to remember that antibiotics are only used to treat bacterial infections as they don’t work for viral infections.
- Quit smoking. Smoking inflamed your bronchial tubes, so you need to give it a rest. It aggravates and irritates bronchitis. It can also prolong acute symptoms.
- Have a proper diet. You can help your body heal by eating a varied diet that is rich in whole-food.
However, home remedies can’t treat more severe lower respiratory tract infections; they can only help you manage your symptoms. If you suspect that your symptoms are more severe, you should see a doctor for a diagnosis and treatment. Your doctor usually diagnoses a lower respiratory tract infection by using a stethoscope to listen to your chest and breathing. Your doctor may also ask you to do other tests, such as:
- Chest X-rays to see if you have pneumonia.
- Blood tests to check for viruses and bacteria.
- Pulse oximetry to see how much oxygen is present in your blood.
- Mucus samples to check for viruses and bacteria.
After your diagnosis, your doctor may prescribe breathing treatments (such as an inhaler) and antibiotics to treat bacterial infections. If your case is a lot more serious you may need to go to the hospital to get IV fluids, breathing support, and antibiotics. Infants, very young children, and people who are older than 65 years old may need more treatment than healthy adults.
There are several easy steps to take to prevent getting a lower respiratory tract infection. These steps include:
- Avoid touching the face using unwashed hands
- Wash hands frequently.
- Get flu shot annually.
- Avoid irritants, such as tobacco, fumes, and chemicals.
- Get vaccines, such as MMR vaccines.
- Stay away from people with respiratory symptoms.