How can a chest infection be prevented?
There are measures you can take to help prevent chest infection and to stop the spread of it to others. You can pass a chest infection on to others through coughing and sneezing. So if you have a chest infection, it's important to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and to wash your hands regularly. You should throw away used tissues immediately.
Immunisation against the pneumococcal germ (bacterium) - the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia - and the annual flu (influenza) virus immunisation are advised if you are at increased risk of developing these infections, or of complications such as chest infections.
Children are not only more at risk of complications from these infections, they're also more likely to pass them on to others. That's why all children from age 2 years to those in school year 3 are offered an annual influenza vaccination with a nasal spray rather than an injection.
Cigarette smoke damages the lining of the airways and makes the lungs more prone to infection. So stopping smoking will lessen your risk of developing lung infections. See the separate leaflets called The Benefits of Stopping Smoking and Tips to Help You Stop Smoking.
Drinking too much alcohol can weaken your immune system, putting you at higher risk of chest infections. You can reduce your risks by sticking within recommended limits. See separate leaflet called Alcohol and Sensible Drinking for advice on sensible drinking levels.
- Men and women should avoid drinking more than 14 units a week.
- Your units should be spread out throughout the week rather than concentrated over one or two days.
- You should have at least two alcohol-free days a week.
A healthy balanced diet and regular exercise can help keep your immune system strong, reducing the chance of succumbing to infections, including chest infections.
Most healthy people can get almost all the vitamins and minerals they need from a healthy balanced diet. However, it's difficult to get enough vitamin D from your diet (most of our vitamin D is made in our skin when it's exposed to sunlight) and many people in the UK are short of vitamin D. Taking vitamin D supplements may help reduce the risk of getting respiratory tract infections.
Further reading and references
Guidelines for the management of community acquired pneumonia in adults; British Thoracic Society (2009), Thorax Vol 64 Sup III
Guidelines for the management of adult lower respiratory tract infections; European Respiratory Society and European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (September 2011)
Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines for children; Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), 2009
Antibiotic awareness resources: key messages on antibiotic use; Public Health England
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