Bronchitis: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment
Bronchitis is an infection of the bronchial tubes.
The infection causes inflammation and swelling of the lining of the bronchioles.
These bronchial tubes carry air in and out of the lungs.
This illness builds up mucus that causes excessive coughing.
What is Bronchitis?
Bronchitis lies in between the common cold and pneumonia in terms of severity.
Bronchi are the main airways of the lungs that produce mucus to trap dust.
However, in bronchitis, the bronchi produce a lot more mucus when an infection irritates the lining of the bronchioles. Thus, you cough up thick mucus.
Types of Bronchitis
There are two types, Acute and Chronic.
It is the common form of bronchitis that usually develops after a respiratory infection.
It is temporary and the inflammation can last for about 3 weeks.
However, it can worsen due to smoking.
It is also called the chest cold and will usually occur following a common cold in winters.
It affects mostly children under 5 years old.
It is a returning cough that occurs for at least 3 months in a year continually for 2 years.
It is a cough producing sputum and usually results from a respiratory infection, use of tobacco in smoking and inhaling irritable substances in the air.
Adults over the age of 40 are mostly affected by Chronic bronchitis.
Chronic bronchitis is a serious condition that is part of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
A persistent cough and white, clear, or yellow-green colored mucus is a sign of bronchitis.
It is possible to confuse it with other lung conditions because the initial symptoms are the same for both conditions.
You will have a runny nose, a sore throat, weakness and difficulty breathing.
Along with slight fever, chest soreness while coughing, chills and wheezing while breathing.
Acute bronchitis symptoms last for 10 to 14 days but the cough can persist for 3 weeks.
You may also have body aches and a headache in acute bronchitis.
Chronic bronchitis lasts longer so there may be times when the symptoms worsen.
It is possible that you contract another infection on top of chronic bronchitis.
If your fever exceeds 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, you have trouble sleeping because of the cough and cough up blood alongside mucus, you should get yourself checked.
A cough lasting longer than 3 weeks may be hinting towards chronic bronchitis.
Causes of Bronchitis
A virus causes acute bronchitis. This is the same virus that is responsible for flu (influenza).
Very rarely, it can also be a bacterial infection.
Chronic bronchitis usually results from excessive smoking. Sometimes dust particles in the air and exposure to toxic gases can also lead to chronic bronchitis.
The virus is present in the tiny droplets that come out by sneezing and coughing.
The droplets can spread up to 1m and may even stay in the air.
After a while, they land on surfaces where they can last up to a day.
If someone touches that surface then they can get infected too.
You can remain contagious for a few days after you get acute bronchitis.
Smoking is one of the main causes of chronic bronchitis.
In fact, it can also affect people who are passive smokers.
You can also inhale dust particles and smog.
Smoking increases the severity of bronchitis and even causes emphysema.
Emphysema is the inflammation of air sacs causing shortness of breath.
Being exposed to certain toxic chemicals can also cause this condition.
However, this type, called occupational bronchitis usually goes away once you are no longer exposed to the chemicals.
Materials such as grain dust, chlorine, fabric fiber, ammonia can damage the lungs and cause chronic bronchitis alongside Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
Active and passive smokers have a high risk of both acute and chronic bronchitis but more so the latter.
This smoking can be of any tobacco product like the Hookah. However, cigarette smoke has been found to have adverse effects.
Frequent heartburn due to acid reflux can irritate your throat and make you prone and susceptible to developing bronchitis.
A weak immune system and low resistance to colds can increase your chances of getting this condition. An acute cold or a chronic autoimmune disease can weaken you making you more prone to the disease.
Furthermore, exposure to chemical fumes and irritants at work can cause occupational bronchitis.
Acute bronchitis usually does not pose any complications. However, in some instances, it can lead to pneumonia.
The symptoms of pneumonia and bronchitis are similar but these conditions are quite different.
Pneumonia affects the alveoli not the bronchial tubes and is much more severe. It can also be life-threatening for the elderly.
Chronic bronchitis might get complicated and become Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
It can be hard to distinguish bronchitis from the common cold.
Your doctor will hear your breathing using a stethoscope.
They will furthermore, recommend tests to determine Bronchitis and rule out any other condition.
These include Chest X-ray, Sputum test and a pulmonary function test.
Your first test will be a Chest X-ray.This can help distinguish bronchitis from pneumonia and the common cold.
The doctor will especially examine you by doing a chest X-ray if you are a smoker.
A pulmonary function test will detect asthma or emphysema.
You will blow in a spirometer. It will measure how much air your lungs are able to hold and how long does it take you to exhale all the air out from the lungs.
Sputum tests can help determine the signs of any infection. The sputum is your mucus that you cough out and testing it can indicate infections, allergies and illnesses.
The treatment depends on the type of bronchitis.
Acute bronchitis usually goes away in a few weeks however, doctors may prescribe medicines to break the buildup mucus.
Chronic bronchitis is not exactly curable but you will get treatments for reducing symptoms.
Your doctor may prescribe a cough medication to deal with the persistent cough.
In Acute Bronchitis, cough lasts the longest. Hence, if you have disturbed sleep and quality of life, your doctor may recommend a cough syrup or medicines.
If you have asthma besides acute bronchitis, your doctor will recommend an inhaler to decrease inflammation and open up the lungs’ passageways.
Mucolytic medicines help in thinning the mucus which makes it easier to cough out.
This condition is usually viral so antibiotics are ineffective. However, in some cases, it could also be bacterial.
For chronic bronchitis, antibiotics will be prescribed to ease breathlessness and cough. Alongside decreasing mucus production due to bacterial infection.
However, they will be mostly recommended when there is a fear of it getting severe and becoming pneumonia.
Premature babies, older people over the age of 80 and people with weak immunity with a history of other diseases might be given antibiotics immediately.
You may also be given anti-inflammatory drugs for instance steroids. They help reduce mucus production and inflammation.
However, corticosteroids have many side effects. They can lead to diabetes and cataracts.
Moreover, bronchodilators are given to patients with chronic bronchitis to keep their bronchial airway muscles relaxed. These keep the airways open rather than clogged up with mucus.
A combination of bronchodilators and steroids may also be given for treatment.
You can also try therapies with a respiratory therapist.
Pulmonary rehabilitation helps patients with chronic bronchitis to breathe easily.
Quit smoking! Especially if you are suffering from chronic bronchitis. Smoking can elevate its symptoms.
Moreover, avoid any irritants to get in your lungs. You can do so by wearing a mask.
If you are exposed to paint and toxic chemical fumes then wear the mask at all times to prevent aggravation.
A humidifier helps keep the air warm and moist.
This moist air cleans up the airways by reducing mucus hence, easing cough.
However, make sure that you clean the humidifier regularly. The build-up of bacteria and fungi can pollute the air it releases.
Moreover, take plenty of fluids. Drink them every 2 hours.
This helps thin the mucus which is easier to cough out. Also, fluids prevent dehydration.
You can also take over-the-counter medicines for acute bronchitis to relieve your symptoms.
These include paracetamol and ibuprofen for headaches, fever and body aches.
You can also try the home remedy of lemon water and honey.
All you will need is lemon water with 1 to 2 tablespoons of honey. This helps relieve your inflammation and thins your mucus.
Avoid smoking and smokers. Passive smokers can also develop chronic bronchitis by being in close proximity to smokers.
Hence, not only should you quit, but you should also tell people around you to quit.
Get the flu vaccine. Influenza is one of the viruses behind this condition. Hence, taking the flu shot will reduce your risk of getting it.
You can also consider getting a vaccine for pneumonia.
If you suffer from COPD, you should wear a surgical mask when going out.
If you are exposed to chemical and dust particles at work then you should also wear a surgical mask at all times to prevent the infection.
Moreover, wash your hands regularly to prevent viral diseases.
Keep a hand sanitizer in your pocket when going out and use it regularly.
Also, take lots of rest when ill. This is how you can feel better soon and prevent bronchitis from recurring.
Bronchitis is not severe as long as it does not develop complications.
One way to avoid most problems associated with lungs is to stop smoking.
Acute bronchitis will last a while and go away on its own.
However, chronic bronchitis cannot be cured but you can only relieve your symptoms.
Consult a doctor if you have chronic bronchitis or if your symptoms last more than 3 weeks.