The Facts on Bronchitis
Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the lower respiratory tract leading to both lungs. There are two types of bronchitis – acute and chronic. Acute bronchitis is a temporary condition which starts rapidly, sometimes in the aftermath of a cold or flu. In acute bronchitis, coughing usually lasts between 10 to 20 days. Chronic bronchitis is defined as a mucus-producing cough that lasts for at least three months in two consecutive years. About one in 20 people in North America suffers from chronic bronchitis. Women are more at risk than men.
Acute bronchitis is an infection most often caused by viruses; occasionally it is caused by bacteria. This form of bronchitis is more common in winter and is very often in children. Irritants like tobacco smoke, smog, chemicals in household cleaners, even fumes or dust in the environment can also start acute bronchitis, especially in susceptible individuals like allergy sufferers and workers in the chemical industry. For chronic bronchitis the main cause is smoking, while second-hand smoking, exposure to heavy air pollution and numerous ineffectively treated respiratory infections also contribute significantly.
It begins like a cold with a sore throat, later comes a cough that is initially dry and irritating, and then the cough turns moist with mucus. Mucous membranes are swollen, ciliated epithelium ceases to perform its function (e.g. the vibration removes mucus with germs and dust) and creates a considerable amount of mucus that irritates and provokes a bad cough. There might be a mild fever of about 101°F (38.5°C) lasting for a couple days. Fever is unusual and suggests pneumonia or flu.
The most common symptoms of chronic bronchitis are a recurrent or persistent productive cough, wheezing sounds when breathing, and a worsening shortness of breath. The condition is often dismissed as smoker's cough. It’s dangerous to underestimate these symptoms; if ignored, this condition can lead to an increased risk of permanent lung damage and a lung infection like tuberculosis and even lung cancer.
For acute bronchitis there is no need for prescribing antibiotics since nine out of 10 cases are caused by viruses, not by bacteria. Generally it is necessary to relieve the symptoms. You should drink a lot of liquids and it is optional to use expectorant to help loosen mucus so it can be more easily coughed up. Drinking herbal tea may help breathing. Avoid stress and air pollution as well as any irritants that may cause further breathing problems.
In the treatment of chronic bronchitis you mainly have to avoid disease triggers. For smokers it is necessary to quit smoking. Oxygen therapy is sometimes used to help patients breathe better. Getting a pneumococcal vaccine and an annual flu vaccine may be suggested after consultation with a doctor. If a bacterial infection starts, antibiotics are prescribed according to the bacillus. If severe breathing difficulties develop, they are treated by various drugs according to the stage of disease.