When the bronchial tubes get inflamed or swollen, it means that you are suffering from bronchitis. Bronchitis can be described as a condition where the lining of the bronchial tubes get inflamed. Those who suffer from bronchitis have a reduced ability to breathe air and oxygen into their lungs; also, they cannot clear heavy mucus or phlegm from their airways. Bronchitis can be caused by viruses, bacteria, and other particles that can irritate the bronchial tubes.Acute bronchitis is very common and it usually develops from a cold or other respiratory infection. Chronic bronchitis is a more serious condition. It represents a constant irritation or inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, often due to smoking.
However, if you have repeated bouts of bronchitis, you may have chronic bronchitis. This means that you should ask for medical attention as soon as possible. Chronic bronchitis is one of the conditions included in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Symptoms of bronchitis
You know that you have bronchitis when you have a persistent coughing. Below you can find the most common signs and symptoms of both acute and chronic bronchitis:
Persistent cough, which may produce mucus
Low fever and chills
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.
Types of bronchitis
Acute bronchitis appears when you have a cold or viral infection, such as the flu. The main symptoms are cough with mucus, chest discomfort or soreness, fever, and, sometimes, shortness of breath. Acute bronchitis usually lasts a few days or weeks.
Chronic bronchitis is more serious. It is characterized by a persistent, mucus-producing cough that lasts longer than 3 months out of the year for more than 2 years. People with chronic bronchitis have varying degrees of breathing difficulties, and symptoms may get better and worse during different parts of the year.
Acute bronchitis is usually caused by viruses, typically the same viruses that cause colds and flu (influenza). The most common cause of chronic bronchitis is cigarette smoking. Other factors that can contribute to acute bronchitis are air pollution and dust or toxic gases in the environment or workplace.
There are several factors that can increase your risk of bronchitis:
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.
The risk of bronchitis can be prevented with some simple actions:
Avoid cigarette smoke.
Get vaccinated. Many cases of acute bronchitis result from influenza, a virus. Getting a yearly flu vaccine can help protect you from getting the flu. You may also want to consider vaccination that protects against some types of pneumonia.
Wash your hands get in the habit of using alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
Wear a surgical mask. If you have COPD, you might consider wearing a face mask at work if you’re exposed to dust or fumes, and when you’re going to be among crowds, such as while traveling.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Your doctor usually can tell whether you have bronchitis based on a physical exam and your symptoms. Your doctor will ask questions about your cough, such as how long you’ve had it and what kind of mucus comes up with it. Moreover, your doctor will listen to your lungs to see whether anything sounds wrong, like wheezing.
In some cases your doctor may:
Check the oxygen levels in your blood.
Do a lung function test. You’ll breathe into a device called a spirometer to test for emphysema and asthma.
Give you a chest X-ray to check for pneumonia or another illness that could cause your cough.
Order blood tests.
Test your mucus to rule out diseases caused by bacteria. One of these is whooping cough, which is also called pertussis. It causes violent coughing that makes it hard to breathe. If your doctor suspects this or suspects the flu she’ll also take a nasal swab.
Because most cases of bronchitis are caused by viral infections, antibiotics aren’t effective. However, if your doctor suspects that you have a bacterial infection, he or she may prescribe an antibiotic.
In some circumstances, your doctor might recommend you other medications such as:
Cough medicine. If your cough keeps you from sleeping, you might try cough suppressants at bedtime.
Other medications. If you have allergies, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), your doctor may recommend an inhaler and other medications to reduce inflammation and open narrowed passages in your lungs.
You can also try other remedies such as:
Drink a lot of water. Eight to 12 glasses a day helps thin out your mucus and makes it easier to cough it up.
Get plenty of rest.
Take over-the-counter pain relievers. Ibuprofen, naproxen, or aspirin help with pain. But avoid giving aspirin to children.
Use a humidifier or try steam. A hot shower can be great for loosening up the mucus.
Take over-the-counter cough medicines. You might take an expectorant during the day to loosen your mucous so it’s easier to cough out. For children, check with your pediatrician before using any cough syrups.