Lower respiratory tract infections: What to know

  1. Lower respiratory tract infections are any infections in the lungs or below the voice box. These include pneumonia, bronchitis, and tuberculosis.A lower respiratory tract infection can affect the airways, such as with bronchitis, or the air sacs at the end of the airways, as in the case of pneumonia.In this article, we look at the causes and symptoms of lower respiratory tract infections and discuss their treatments and prevention.

  2. Symptoms ymptoms of lower respiratory tract infections vary and depend on the severity of the infection.

Less severe infections can have symptoms similar to the common cold, including:

a stuffed up or a runny nosea dry cougha low fevera mild sore throata dull headache

In more severe infections, symptoms can include:

  • a severe cough that may produce phlegm

  • fever

  • difficulty breathing

  • a blue tint to the skin

  • rapid breathing

  • chest pain

  • wheezing

Upper vs. lower respiratory tract infections

Lower respiratory tract infections differ from upper respiratory tract infections by the area of the respiratory tract they affect.

While lower respiratory tract infections involve the airways below the larynx, upper respiratory tract infections occur in the structures in the larynx or above.

People who have lower respiratory tract infections will experience coughing as the primary symptom.

People with upper respiratory tract infections will feel the symptoms mainly above the neck, such as sneezing, headaches, and sore throats. They may also experience body aches, especially if they have a fever.

Lower respiratory tract infections include:

Upper respiratory tract infections include the following:

Infections in the lower respiratory tract are primarily the result of:

  • viruses, as with the flu or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)

  • bacteria, such as Streptococcus or Staphylococcus aureus

  • fungal infection

  • smycoplasma, which are neither viruses or bacteria but are small organisms with characteristics of both


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