Lower respiratory infections

Lower respiratory infections are any infections below the voice box – they can affect the lungs, bronchi or bronchioles (tiny structures in the lungs). These infections can be caused by bacteria or viruses and include pneumonia, bronchitis and tuberculosis.

People with lower respiratory tract infections experience coughing as the main symptom. Infections that are less severe usually have symptoms similar to the common cold, such as a blocked or runny nose, dry cough, raised body temperature, sore throat and headache. More severe infections typically produce more serious symptoms, including cough bringing up phlegm, fever, difficulty breathing, rapid breathing, chest pain and wheezing.

In the most dangerous cases, there may be life-threatening complications, such as congestive heart failure, respiratory failure, sepsis (blood infection that can cause multiple organ failure) or lung abscesses.

The viruses causing these infections can be flu viruses or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), bacterial infection may be caused by Streptococcus or Staphylococcus aureus, you may also become ill as the result of a fungal infection or mycoplasma infection. 

If your airways or lungs are exposed to irritating substances from the environment, it can cause inflammation, which can facilitate infection. These substances include tobacco smoke, dust, chemicals, vapours and fumes, allergens and air pollution.

There are also risk factors that make you more susceptible to lower respiratory infections – eg a recent cold or flu, compromised immune system, older age (over 65) or very young age (under five years). 

The less severe forms of the disease can be treated at home with over-the-counter medications for a cough or fever, rest, drinking plenty of fluids and a nutritious diet. A vegan diet based on fruit and vegetables, pulses (beans, lentils, soya), wholegrains, nuts and seeds provides plenty of essential nutrients and health-supporting antioxidants, aiding your recovery.

In more severe cases, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics for bacterial infections or breathing treatments, such as an inhaler. The most serious cases require hospitalisation with an intravenous infusion (drip), antibiotics, or breathing support.To prevent an infection, wash your hands frequently, don’t touch your face with unwashed hands, avoid contact with people with respiratory symptoms, maintain a healthy plant-based diet and make sure to get plenty of sleep.