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This inlammatory condition comes on very quickly in it's acute form. The number one cause for the chronic version is smoking.

What is it?

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the airways between the windpipe and the lungs (bronchial tubes).

What Happens?

The lining of these tubes produces large amounts of mucus, triggering a lingering cough. Women are more at risk than men. The typical patient is a smoker over 45 years of age.

Symptoms and Possible Complications

Persistent coughing accompanied by mucous or phlegm is the most obvious symptom of bronchitis. Lung congestion and wheezing are also common.

Acute bronchitis

usually starts out as a dry cough, but within a few hours or days the cough starts to produce thick mucus. This phlegm typically has a yellow or greenish colour. Wheezing after coughing is usual, and there might be some chest pain as well. Other symptoms are similar to that of a common cold, such as muscle aches, tiredness and sore throat. A mild fever of about 101°F (38.5°C) may last about four days. A higher temperature, or a fever that isn't gone within a week, may suggest a bacterial infection such as pneumonia. It's important to see a doctor in this situation.

Chronic bronchitis

features regular coughing and spitting up of a great deal of thick mucus - up to an ounce a day. This mucus partly blocks the airways, making breathing difficult. The condition is often dismissed as smoker's cough. The coughing is often ignored until the lungs have already been damaged. The result is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This can lead to a chronic lack of oxygen. Signs such as blue lips and nail beds may be noticed. People with this condition tend to become sedentary. The mucous in the airways creates a good environment for viruses and bacteria to breed. This makes people with chronic bronchitis and COPD more prone to other infections such as pneumonia.

Why does it Happen?

Acute bronchitis

comes on rapidly, usually after a virus has invaded the upper respiratory tract. Sometimes there is a bacterial infection as well. Viruses most likely to trigger acute bronchitis are those responsible for influenza (the flu) or the common cold. The viruses that cause measles and rubella (German measles) can also cause acute bronchitis. In these cases, it is called acute infectious bronchitis. The condition is called acute irritative bronchitis when it is caused by inhaling dust, fumes or smoke.

Chronic bronchitis

is a mucous-producing cough that lasts for at least three months in two consecutive years. The most important cause by far is smoking. Exposure to some pollutants can also contribute to chronic bronchitis. A growing number of specialists believe that some kind of infection is a necessary final trigger of chronic bronchitis.

About 90% of people with chronic bronchitis are smokers. Certain jobs also increase the risk of developing bronchitis, such as coal mining etc.

Should I see a doctor ?

It's important to be aware that symptoms of chronic bronchitis can get suddenly worse. If your medication no longer seems to be effective, see a doctor immediately.Acute bronchitis is diagnosed by a doctor after a physical examination and discussion of your symptoms.This diagnosis is likely if you have a persistent cough, are spitting up yellow or green mucus, and have recently had a lung infection or a cold. Chronic bronchitis is also diagnosed after the doctor has done a careful physical exam and has asked about the overall history of your health. The doctor may want you to have some tests, called pulmonary function tests, to assess how well your lungs are working. In either case, if the doctor suspects other problems such as emphysema, he or she will order a chest x-ray. Sputum samples may also be analysed to identify any infectious organisms in the airways.

Treatment

For acute (infectious) bronchitis:

  • Antibiotics are normally only prescribed if a bacterium is the cause. If a virus is the problem, the infection will generally go away by itself.
  • Over-the-counter painkillers are used to control the fever symptoms of a viral infection. Children should never take aspirin for a viral infection of the respiratory tract. It can cause Reye's syndrome, a rare and lethal inflammation of the brain.
  • Cough medications used are either suppressants (which control the cough) or expectorants (which allow the cough to clear mucus from the airways).
  • Bronchodilators are inhaled medications that help open up the airways. They are usually taken as a 'puffer' (metered-dose inhaler) or as a mist used with a mask (nebuliser).

Medications for chronic bronchitis include:

  • bronchodilators, which widen the airways to make breathing easier.
  • Corticosteroid inhalers sometimes given when chronic bronchitis suddenly becomes worse. These drugs help reduce the inflammation and swelling of the airways.

Self-care and prevention for bronchitis includes:

  • drinking plenty of fluids, which helps to thin out the mucus so it is easier to get rid of.
  • using a cool or warm moist-air humidifier, which also helps to thin the mucus blocking the air passages. Humidifiers should be cleaned according to the manufacturer's directions to make sure bacteria does not build up inside the machine.
  • exercising regularly. (this makes lungs and surrounding muscles more pliable, easing the breathing process)
  • using an oxygen supplement, which may be recommended for severe chronic bronchitis, especially when the symptoms suddenly worsen. Many chronic bronchitis sufferers find that "home oxygen therapy" is helpful when they have difficulty breathing.

If you already have chronic bronchitis and there has been some damage to the airways, quitting smoking slows down the disease and lessens the chances of getting lung cancer.

Another important preventive measure is to be vaccinated against influenza and pneumonia. These vaccinations are recommended for seniors, people with certain medical conditions (e.g. diabetes, heart disease), and everyone with chronic bronchitis or COPD.
This material is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for the medical advice of your doctor or any other health care professional. Always consult with your physician if you are in any way concerned about your health.

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