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Lower Respiratory Tract Infections

Lower respiratory tract infection is an infection in the lungs or below the voice box which includes pneumonia, bronchitis, tuberculosis, and bronchiolitis [1, 2]. Bronchitis affects the larger airways (bronchi) and bronchiolitis affects the smaller airways (bronchioles) [3]. TB and pneumonia are infections in the air sac at the end of the airway but TB can also affect other parts of the body. [2]

These lower respiratory tract infections are the primary result of [2]

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

  • Bacteria, such as Streptococcus or Staphylococcus aureus

  • fungal infections

  • mycoplasma, which is neither viruses nor bacteria but is small organisms with characteristics of both

In some cases, substances from the environment can irritate or cause inflammation in the airways of the lungs, which can lead to an infection. These include: [2]

  • tobacco smoke

  • chemicals vapor and fumes

  • allergens such as dust, pollens, etc

  • other types of irritant caused by air pollution

Moreover, there are some risk factors that can make a person more likely to develop these infections, including: [2]

  • a recent cold or flu

  • a weakened immune system

  • being more than 65 years old

  • being under 5 years old

  • recent surgery

The main symptom of the lower respiratory tract infection is a cough. Other Symptoms of these infections vary depending on the severity of the infection. Less severe infections symptoms can be similar to the common flu, including; [2]

  • a stuffed up or a runny nose

  • dry cough

  • low fever

  • a mild sore throat

  • a dull headache

In more severe infections, symptoms can include; [2]

  • a severe cough that may produce phlegm

  • fever

  • difficulty breathing

  • a blue tint to the skin

  • rapid breathing

  • chest pain

  • wheezing

Lower respiratory tract infections are uncomplicated. However, when complications occur, they can be very serious. Complications of lower respiratory tract infections can include: [2]

  • congestive heart failure

  • respiratory failure

  • respiratory arrest

  • sepsis, which is a blood infection that can lead to organ shutdown

  • lung abscesses

Some lower respiratory tract infections go away without needing treatment. People can treat these less-severe viral infections at home with: [2]

  • over-the-counter medications for a cough or fever

  • plenty of rest

  • drinking plenty of fluids

Additional treatment such as antibiotics for a bacterial infection or breathing treatments like an inhaler can be prescribed.

However, these infections can be prevented by taking preventative measures such as [2]

  • washing hands frequently

  • avoiding touching the face with unwashed hands

  • maintain physical distance or wear face masks if you want to go near the infected person

  • cleaning and disinfecting surfaces regularly

  • get vaccinated and Immunized

  • avoiding known irritants, such as chemicals, fumes, and tobacco

Lower tract infection is the main cause of death in PNG and the Pacific region. It is made up of the infections of the airways and air sacs that include bronchiolitis, bronchitis, pneumonia, and tuberculosis. It is mainly caused by viruses and bacteria. People with these infections will experience coughing and flu as the primary symptoms. These infections can be treated at home or at the hospital depending on the severity of the infection.


1. CDC Global Health - Papua New Guinea. Available at

2. Lower respiratory tract infection: Symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. Available at

Bronchitis and bronchiolitis - Google Search. Available at

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