So you thought (hoped) you might coast through cold and flu season, but suddenly you're feeling a little under the weather. Could it be a dreaded chest cold, sometimes called acute bronchitis? Read on to find out if you're showing the early signs of this nasty cold, and what you can do to get some much-needed relief.
One of the earliest symptoms you're likely to notice when you catch a new cold is a sore throat. It develops as the offending cold virus starts to infect and attack your respiratory tract, triggering an immune response. The infection (and your immune system) causes the tissues in your throat to swell up, leading to that characteristic discomfort. To help relieve these symptoms, consider drinking liquids (like tea with honey), although know that the drinks won't help with the underlying chest cold.
As your body mounts an immune response against cold and flu germs, you might develop a slight fever — up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. A fever is your body's way of naturally "burning" out a fever. Germs, like those that cause chest colds, work best at your normal body temperature, which is around 98.6 degrees F. Raising your body temperature keeps germs from working as effectively, so your body has an easier time fighting them off.
Perhaps one of the most recognizable signs of a developing chest cough is excess mucus. While unpleasant, mucus actually plays an important role in protecting your respiratory tract. It works as a trap for harmful particles like germs and helps remove them from your system. So it's no surprise that a chest cold comes along with plenty of excess mucus, designed to get those nasty germs out of your airways. The texture and color of your mucus might change as your chest cold develops — it may start as thickened clear or white mucus that turns yellow or green as your cough continues. Don't read too much into the color of your mucus though. Green mucus may look scary, but doesn't necessarily mean you need more aggressive treatment (or antibiotics).
You're also likely to develop a productive cough early in your chest cold journey, thanks to all that excess mucus. The presence of extra mucus trips up nerve endings, called mechanoreceptors, and activates your "cough reflex" that ends up as — you guessed it — a pesky cough. While disruptive and uncomfortable, coughing up mucus actually helps remove germs from your airways, so you can stay on track for recovery. Don't be surprised if your coughing starts early and continues even after your other symptoms have subsided. Depending on the severity of your chest cold, coughing might last for up to eight weeks, notes Hope College.
Your impending chest cough might feel unstoppable, but many of your symptoms aren't. Try one of these tips to start feeling better:
- Seek over-the-counter relief: An OTC chest cough medication may offer some relief. Medications containing guaifenesin can help thin and break up mucus, so you can cough it up more easily. Try a Mucinex® cough and chest decongestant medicine to clear stubborn mucus.
- Hydrate: Replenish lost fluid by drinking plenty of water, juice and hot tea, recommends Hope College.
- Enjoy a little R&R: Clear your calendar of non-essentials for the next few days, since resting gives your immune system an opportunity to fight off germs.
- See a doctor: See a physician if you develop a fever higher than 100 degrees F, you're having trouble breathing (or you're wheezing), you're coughing up blood or your chest cold is keeping you up at night, recommends the Mayo Clinic.
- Acute Upper Respiratory Infection (Cold)
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Sore Throat
- Mayo Clinic: Fever
- Mayo Clinic: Bronchitis Symptoms
- Harvard Medical School: Don't Judge Your Mucus By Its Color
- Hope College: Cough - Acute Bronchitis - Chest Cold