29th September 2020

Your chest infection is still here?

View all Early detection

Most of us know that a persistent cough may be a symptom of lung cancer. However, very few of us recognise that going down with frequent chest infections may also be a warning sign. In fact, according to a survey by the Global Lung Cancer Coalition, only 1% of people in the UK identified repeat chest infections as a potential sign of lung cancer.

A chest infection is an infection of the lungs or large airways. Chest infections are very common, especially in the winter months. Some chest infections are mild and get better on their own, or with a prescribed course of antibiotics if your doctor thinks you have a bacterial chest infection. Others can be more severe and, in some cases, even life threatening.

Most of us will get a chest infection in our life and, more times than not, there is nothing to be concerned with. However, if you have a chest infection and it is not clearing up, or you are having repeat chest infections, then it is important to get to the cause of the problem. In most cases, that will not be lung cancer but for some, like Ruthra, it is lung cancer.

I was constantly getting chest infections and had a cough that wouldn’t stop. I just put it down to having a child in nursery who was bringing all the bugs home, but I was getting it more often than my husband.

Ruthra was diagnosed with early stage lung cancer

‘’I would get it in the summer months, and it would be quite bad so I thought this isn’t right – I’m a young, fit and healthy person so this shouldn’t be.

“I carried on as normal – life is busy – but in the summer of 2018, I ended up in A&E as I couldn’t breathe deeply due to a sharp pain in my chest. Once again, I was treated for a chest infection, but by then I was starting to worry about why I was getting ill so much. So, I went to my GP and asked to be referred to hospital.”

Ruthra’s chest infections turned out to be early stage lung cancer. Ruthra recognised the frequency of her chest infections suggested something wasn’t right. She wasn’t prepared to wait and see if things got better; she took the initiative and asked to be referred for further investigation, a decision which may have saved her life.

Understanding chest infections

It is easy to explain chest infections away, especially in colder weather or if you have younger children or grandchildren.

Chest infections usually get better on their own in about 7 to 10 days. The associated cough and mucus can last up to three weeks.

If your chest infection is taking longer to shift, or it seems to be getting worse, it is really important to contact your GP. If you have already had antibiotics and they have not worked, don’t be afraid to ask for an x-ray, or even a CT scan, like Ruthra.

Know all the symptoms

There are many different symptoms of lung cancer. Some people have one, others have more. Some even have none.

As well as frequent chest infections, other signs and symptoms of lung cancer include:

– A persistent cough that lasts three weeks or more
– Breathlessness
– Wheezing
– A cough that changes or gets worse
– Chest and/or shoulder pain
– Loss of appetite and/or unexplained weight loss
– Coughing up blood or blood in your phlegm
– Unexplained fatigue or lack of energy
– Hoarseness
– Finger clubbing
– Swelling in the face or neck.

Lung cancer was not cancelled because of coronavirus. Don’t let the pandemic stop you or your loved one from being diagnosed. If you are experiencing any symptoms, including repeat chest infections, contact your doctor.