Chronic bronchitis is the most common chronic disease of the airways. It is a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The most common cause of chronic bronchitis is smoking tobacco. Viruses and bacteria can also play a role, because the afflicted bronchial tubes are vulnerable to picking up a secondary infection. Doctors diagnose chronic bronchitis based on a person's medical history, physical exam, and diagnostic tests. Tests to diagnose chronic bronchitis include: Pulmonary function tests; Arterial blood gas; Chest x-ray; Pulse oximetry (oxygen saturation testing); Complete blood count (CBC); Exercise testing; and Chest CT scan.
The early stages of chronic bronchitis are characterized by a heavy morning expectoration of the phlegm that had accumulated during sleep in a horizontal position. The mucous glands are enlarged; the bronchial wall (the wall of the pulmonary tissues) gets infected. The mucus 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. Infection of the lung tissue leads to the formation of heavy phlegm, which causes the inhaled air to spread unevenly in the lungs. In late, severe stages, patients suffer from insufficient blood oxygenation (hypoxia) resulting in cyanosis, which is an abnormal blue discoloration of the skin and lips (also called "blue bloaters").
There is no cure for chronic bronchitis. Treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms and preventing complications. Quit smoking and avoid other airborne irritants. The use of bronchodilator medication can be suggested to open obstructed airways in people who have associated wheezing with their coughing, or underlying asthma or COPD. If you have chronic bronchitis, do not go out for a walk if the air quality is significantly impaired. Lying down at night can worsen the condition, so some people with advanced chronic bronchitis must sleep sitting up. 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.