Curious - when does 'chest cold' become 'chest infection'?

Apologies if this is a really stupid question that no-one can really answer on a forum! Just slightly curious about when a chest cold actually becomes a chest infection (though I guess it's already a form of viral infection, which you can't do anything about).

But when does it tip over from being 'ugghh, cold' and into 'need antibiotics'?' I caught a cold end of last week, now feel like I've inhaled cement and my voice sounds rather odd. There's definitely mucus down there driving me nuts although as usual it won't shift - so can't do the 'is it green?' test (sorry for TMI lol) And of course breathing is not happy and chest a bit tight, though tbh it never is anyway so I can't tell if it's really any worse than usual, aside from the 'wet cement' feeling.

Just curious really. Guess I can always mention it to GP this afternoon if there's time after discussing referral (assuming he doesn't notice anyway).

4 Replies

  • Did you get chance to ask gp? I tend to base whether or not I think it's an infection if I can't cough anything up on how unwell I feel, how high my temperature is, how crackly I feel and whether or not gp can hear anything.

    Hope you feel better soon.



  • Thanks! I did, sort of - he asked how I was and I said I had a cold, and he could tell anyway as my voice had gone funny and I was coughing a lot. He didn't listen to my chest but think he felt it was just a cold which I'm happy with as don't want to take antibs unnecessarily - will go back if it does threaten to turn into one, but atm don't seem to have temp or anything - will see how it goes.

    He has given me carbocysteine which I wasn't expecting, but had said how the mucus didn't want to come up and that even when I didn't have a cold it seemed to appear and just sit there so he thought it was worth trying (said it was one of the few things he hadn't already tried lol).

  • Infections can be viral or bacterial. Either type can result in hoiking up green / yellow crud - that's mucus with dead white blood cells in, and those blood cells go into action regardless of whether the pathogen is a virus or bacteria.

    As you've said - if it's viral, it won't respond to antibiotics. The risk is that with someone that doesn't have an efficient respiratory system, the crud hanging around in the lungs will brew and a bacterial infection will develop. Unless sputum samples are taken the nature of the infection won't be known, but antibiotics may be given to kill off any bacteria that might be lurking and act as a prophylactic.

    It's definitely worth mentioning to your GP - I hope you did - and I hope you've come away with some sensible information & support.

  • Thanks for clarifying! Very strange voice and lots of coughing so no real need to 'mention' it, but GP didn't seem too worried. He suggested some ways of calming it down; will go back if no improvement.

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