What is Chest Cold?

chest cold

A chest cold, or acute bronchitis, is a condition affecting the bronchial tubes of the lungs, causing short-term inflammation and irritation of these airways. Common symptoms include a persistent cough, shortness of breath, and fatigue.

Most often developing out of respiratory infections such as flu or a common cold, chest colds are caused – in most cases – by the same set of viruses as cause the common cold. In rare cases, a chest cold can also be caused by a bacterial infection.[1]

Most people find that a chest cold clears up in two to three weeks, without the need for treatment. In severe cases or when the symptoms do not subside in the normal timeframe, doctors will recommend treatment options.

A chest cold is generally considered to be a non-serious condition. However, there is a risk that a chest cold will develop into pneumonia – a more serious condition. A persistent chest cold may also be diagnosed as chronic bronchitis, a long-term condition that cannot be fully cured.[2] If you think that you may be experiencing a chest cold, a symptom assessment using the Adoctor conditions and symptoms may be able to help.

Acute bronchitis vs. chronic bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis differs from acute bronchitis by its persistent nature. Acute bronchitis, which shares the same symptoms as chronic bronchitis, is a short-term condition that typically fades in two to three weeks, whereas chronic bronchitis is a permanent or constantly recurring condition, most often caused by smoking or the inhalation of irritants or dust. To be classed as chronic bronchitis, a cough must be present for a minimum of three months in each of two consecutive years and all other possible causes ruled out.

Read more about Chronic Bronchitis

Symptoms of a chest cold

The main symptom of a chest cold is a cough, which will often be persistent and accompanied by the coughing up of mucus. The production of excess mucus is normal during a chest cold – a response designed to protect the respiratory tract from germs and bacteria. Other symptoms may include:[3]

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Aches and pains
  • Other symptoms associated with a cold or flu

The cough associated with a chest cold will typically take two to three weeks to disappear completely. If you are experiencing any symptoms of a chest cold, try using Adoctor conditions and symptoms to carry out a symptom assessment.

Causes of a chest cold

A chest cold can be either a viral or bacterial infection, though it is far more common to contract the condition virally. The viruses that cause the condition are of the same variety as those that cause the common cold or flu, and it usually develops from these conditions. If a cold or flu seems to worsen, therefore, it may be that a chest cold has developed.

The viruses that cause a chest cold are most commonly passed on through tiny droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. The virus can survive on a surface such as a countertop or door-handle, for example, for up to 24 hours.[4] To help avoid infection, individuals should take measures such as washing their hands thoroughly and avoiding sharing drinking glasses and utensils.

Diagnosing a chest cold

Doctors will usually be able to diagnose a chest cold by asking some questions about a person’s symptoms and by performing a physical examination.[5] In some cases, a doctor may order further tests to diagnose the condition or distinguish it from other conditions. These tests include:[6]

  • Pulmonary function test: Used to check for signs of asthma or emphysema.
  • Sputum tests: Used to identify the bacteria within sputum (mucus).
  • X-ray: Potentially useful in identifying the source of an individual’s symptoms.

Chest cold treatment

A chest cold does not require treatment in all cases – it will normally begin to fade in two to three weeks,** though the cough may persist for longer.

If the coughing is particularly severe, cough medication is available over the counter, or it may be prescribed by a doctor. Pain relievers such as ibuprofen and paracetamol can be taken to suppress pain. For those with allergies, asthma, or chronic obtrusive pulmonary disease, a range of medications can be prescribed as needed.[7]

As a chest cold is in most cases caused by a virus, antibiotics are useless and may even be harmful. However, if it is thought that a chest cold is bacterial in origin, antibiotics can be used to effectively treat the condition.

Chest cold home remedies

Although treatment may not be necessary for a chest cold, there is a range of home remedies that can be used to manage its symptoms. Some of the most common home remedies include:[8]

  • Rest: Rest is vital in order to help the immune system regain its strength.
  • Hydration: Drinking plenty of water helps thin out the mucus in the chest, making it easier to cough up.
  • Hot drinks and lozenges: Drinks such as tea with honey and over-the-counter lozenges can provide some relief from certain symptoms.
  • Steam: Steam from a hot shower or towel can help dislodge mucus and relieve symptoms.

There are many natural products that can effectively help alleviate the symptoms of a chest cold. These include:

  • Apple cider vinegar: Raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar helps thin the mucus in the chest, which can reduce congestion and help a person with a chest cold to breathe better. Drinking a solution of warm water mixed with two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar two or three times a day for a week will help reduce the duration of a chest cold and strengthen the immune system, preventing future colds.
  • Turmeric: Tumeric, a plant and spice that grows in Southeast-Asian and Middle-Eastern countries, is very effective at reducing the symptoms of a chest cold. It contains the compound curcumin, which has antiviral, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Adding around a teaspoon of raw, grated turmeric or powdered tumeric to a hot drink several times a day or using it to flavour food can help alleviate the symptoms of a chest cold.
  • Ginger: Ginger has been used as a natural remedy to treat various conditions for over 2000 years and is an effective agent in reducing the inflammation in the chest caused by a chest cold. It can be added to food in its raw state, brewed as a tea or taken as supplements.
  • Essential oils: There are many different types of essential oils, each of which are particularly helpful with alleviating the symptoms of a different array of conditions. The most helpful essential oils for treating a chest cold include frankincense, oregano, eucalyptus, tea tree and lemon. Essential oils can be added to a hot compress, bath water, dabbed on the neck and temples or administered using a vaporiser/diffuser. When using essential oils to treat a chest cold, always consult the instructions on the packaging for the most appropriate way to apply them.

Some herbal remedies and supplements are not compatible with underlying conditions or prescription medications. If, in addition to their chest cold, a person has a chronic (ongoing) condition and/or regularly takes any medications, they should consult their doctor before using any new natural products.

Chest cold prevention

The viruses that in most cases cause a chest cold can be hard to avoid, spread as they are by tiny, often undetectable droplets released into the air or onto surfaces. However, certain measures can be taken to try and avoid these viruses. They include:[9]

  • Washing hands frequently and thoroughly
  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Avoiding excessive touching of the eyes or mouth
  • Avoiding sharing things such as drinking glasses or utensils
  • Staying healthy with regular exercise, enough fluids and a balanced diet
  • Getting vaccines for pneumonia, flu and whooping cough

Chest cold complications

Complications that can develop from a chest cold include:[10]

  • Pneumonia: The symptoms of pneumonia are typically similar to those of a chest cold, though may be more severe. The condition is easily treatable with antibiotics, though it is important that it is distinguished from a chest cold first. Elderly people, smokers and those with preexistent liver or kidney conditions are most at risk from contracting pneumonia. Read more about Pneumonia »
  • Chronic bronchitis: A permanent condition typically caused by smoking or exposure to airborne irritants. A persistent cough, lasting for at least three months in two consecutive years, is the chief symptom of chronic bronchitis. A doctor should be able to diagnose the condition. Read more about Chronic Bronchitis »

Chest cold FAQs

  1. UpToDate. “Acute bronchitis in adults (Beyond the basics).” Accessed September 11, 2017.

  2. MedlinePlus. “Chronic Bronchitis.” April 21, 2017. Accessed August 11, 2017.

  3. Patient. “Acute Bronchitis.” September 23, 2016. Accessed September 11, 2017.

  4. NHS Choices. “Bronchitis – Causes.” August 3, 2017. Accessed August 11, 2017.

  5. Lung. “Diagnosing and Treating Acute Bronchitis.” Accessed August 11, 2017.

  6. American Family Physician. “Diagnosis and Management of Acute Bronchitis.” May, 2002. Accessed August 11, 2017

  7. Patient. “Acute Bronchitis.” September 23, 2016. Accessed September 11, 2017.

  8. WebMD. “Cough Relief: How to Lose a Bad Cough?” Accessed August 11, 2017.

  9. Healthline. “Acute Bronchitis: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and More.” March 2, 2017. Accessed August 10, 2017.

  10. NHS Choices. “Bronchitis – Complications of bronchitis.” August 3, 2016. Accessed August 11, 2017.

  11. Healthline. “How to Prevent and Treat Bronchitis When Pregnant.” December 15, 2015. Accessed August 11, 2017.

  12. NCBI. “Acute bronchitis.” February, 2008. Accessed July 13, 2018.

**Question: What is a Chest Cold?**


A chest cold, also known ​as bronchitis, is a respiratory infection that affects the large airways in the lungs, namely the bronchi. It is typically caused by viruses and is highly ⁤contagious.


* Cough (dry or productive)

* ⁣Chest congestion

* Wheezing

* Shortness of breath

* Sore throat

* Runny nose

* Low-grade fever

* Body aches


Chest colds are primarily caused by viruses, including:

* Rhinovirus

* Coronavirus

* Influenza virus

* Parainfluenza ​virus

In rare ⁢cases, bacterial⁢ infections can also cause chest colds.


A chest cold can usually be diagnosed based on the symptoms and a physical ⁤examination. A⁣ doctor may⁣ order a⁤ chest X-ray to‌ rule out‌ any underlying lung conditions.


Most chest colds are⁤ self-limiting and do not require specific treatment. However, there ⁢are ⁣some measures that can help alleviate symptoms:

* Rest

* Over-the-counter ⁤cough suppressants or expectorants

* Decongestants

* Inhalers

* Humidifiers


To prevent chest colds, ⁣it is​ recommended to:

* Wash your ​hands frequently

* Avoid contact​ with sick individuals

*⁢ Get vaccinated‍ for⁣ the ​flu

*‍ Strengthen your immune system through a healthy diet ‌and regular exercise


In most cases, chest ​colds‍ resolve within a few weeks. However, complications can occur ⁤in individuals with⁣ weakened immune systems or‌ underlying health conditions. These complications include:

* Pneumonia

* Bronchitis

* Respiratory failure

**Additional Information:**

* Chest colds ‌are more‍ common⁤ in winter and early spring.

*⁤ They are highly contagious, especially during the first few days‍ of symptoms.

* Rest‍ is essential for recovery,⁢ allowing the body to ‍focus on fighting the infection.

* Overuse of⁢ cough suppressants can be counterproductive, as it can​ prevent the removal of mucus⁣ from ​the‌ airways.


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