What Is Bronchitis?
Bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of your bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from your lungs. People who have bronchitis often cough up thickened mucus, which can be discolored. Bronchitis may be either acute or chronic.
Often developing from a cold or other respiratory infection, acute bronchitis is very common. Chronic bronchitis, a more serious condition, is a constant irritation or inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, often due to smoking.
Factors that increase your risk of bronchitis include:
- Cigarette smoke. People who smoke or who live with a smoker are at higher risk of both acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis.
- Low resistance. This may result from another acute illness, such as a cold, or from a chronic condition that compromises your immune system. Older adults, infants and young children have greater vulnerability to infection.
- Exposure to irritants on the job. Your risk of developing bronchitis is greater if you work around certain lung irritants, such as grains or textiles, or are exposed to chemical fumes.
- Gastric reflux. Repeated bouts of severe heartburn can irritate your throat and make you more prone to developing bronchitis.
Sign and Symptoms of both acute and chronic bronchitis include:
- Persistent cough, which may produce mucus
- Low fever and chills
- Chest tightening
- Sore throat
- Body aches
- Blocked nose and sinuses
One of the main symptoms of acute bronchitis is a cough that lasts for several weeks. It can sometimes last for several months if the bronchial tubes take a long time to heal fully.
It is common for the symptoms of chronic bronchitis to get worse two or more times every year, and they are often worse during the winter months.
However, a cough that refuses to go away could also be a sign of another illness such as Asthma or Pneumonia.
When to see a doctor
Most cases of bronchitis can be treated at home with rest, anti-inflammatory medication, and plenty of fluids. However, in some cases, it is important to see a doctor. The following are signs that a visit to the doctor is in order:
- Cough lasts more than 3 weeks.
- Constant fever lasting 3 days or more.
- If coughed up mucus includes blood.
- Anyone with an existing lung or heart condition.
- Rapid breathing and/or chest pains.
- Becoming drowsy or confused.
- If bronchitis is recurring
Treatments for bronchitis
People suffering from bronchitis are usually instructed to rest, drink fluids, breath warm and moist air, and take OTC cough suppressants and pain relievers to manage symptoms and ease breathing.
Many cases of acute bronchitis go away without any specific treatment, but there is no cure for chronic bronchitis. To keep bronchitis symptoms under control and relieve symptoms, doctors might prescribe:
- Cough medicine – although coughing should not be completely suppressed as this is an important way to bring up mucus and remove irritants from the lungs.
- Bronchodilators – these open the bronchial tubes and clear out mucus.
- Mucolytics – these thin or loosen mucus in the airways, making it easier to cough up sputum.
- Anti-inflammatory medicines and glucocorticoid steroids – these are for more persistent symptoms to help decrease chronic inflammation that may cause tissue damage.
- Oxygen therapy – this helps improve oxygen intake when breathing is difficult.
- Pulmonary rehabilitation program – this includes work with a respiratory therapist to help improve breathing.
- Antibiotics- these are effective for bacterial infections, but not for viral infections. They may also prevent secondary infections.
Additional behavioral remedies include:
- Removing the source of irritation to the lungs – for example, by stopping smoking
- Using a humidifier – this can loosen mucus and relieve limited airflow and wheezing
- Exercise – this will strengthen the muscles involved in breathing
- Breathing exercises – for example, pursed-lip breathing that helps to slow breathing down