Select a Topic
What is Bronchitis?
Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchi (large airways) in the lungs, occurring when an infection causes the thin mucous membrane linings of these airways to become irritated and inflamed. The result is the production of mucus in the lungs and a persistent cough that may last several days or weeks.
The Two Types of Bronchitis
Chronic bronchitis: This is not necessarily caused by infection and is most often part of more serious lung conditions. The most common chronic bronchitis symptoms are characterized by a persistent cough that produces phlegm for at least three months a year for two consecutive years.
Acute bronchitis is recognized as a cough and the production of phlegm which may be accompanied by symptoms such as shortness of breath and wheezing, as well as a mild fever in some cases. Acute bronchitis commonly occurs after an upper respiratory infection such as a cold, influenza, or a sinus infection. For this reason, you may also experience other symptoms such as muscle aches, nasal congestion, and a sore throat in addition to bronchitis symptoms.
Bronchitis generally clears up on its own after a few weeks, although sometimes the cough may be especially disruptive or complications may prompt you to seek medical attention. In addition, treatment differs for chronic bronchitis and acute bronchitis, so the correct diagnosis can offer the most relief by addressing any underlying infections. Generally if symptoms persist or you are worried about their severity, it’s a good idea to seek medical attention.
Reasons to Seek Medical Attention for Bronchitis
- A severe cough that persistently disrupts sleep
- Severe wheezing that makes it difficult to breathe
- Worsening cough symptoms after a week
- Blood-tinged phlegm
- A mild fever that lasts longer than three days, or a fever over 101°F
- Repeated bouts of bronchitis
- You have a chronic lung or heart condition, as this increases your chance of developing complications
Your doctor will be able to diagnose bronchitis by listening to your chest with a stethoscope. You may also be asked to have a chest X-ray, and in some cases a sputum culture (laboratory test to determine the presence of bacteria in the phlegm) may be done, especially if a more serious condition such as pneumonia or tuberculosis is suspected.
What Causes Bronchitis?
Bronchitis is generally caused by a virus such as those that cause the common cold and influenza. It is therefore common to develop bronchitis as a secondary infection which follows flu-like symptoms, or is accompanied by them.
Some people are also more at risk of developing bronchitis such as the elderly, people with a lowered immune system, those who are continuously exposed to lung irritants (such as smoke), and people working in certain occupational settings.
Help for Bronchitis
Most cases of Bronchitis resolve without medical treatment provided that there are no complications, although it may take some time before the cough disappears completely.
Treatments for Bronchitis
Self-care for bronchitis include focusing some attention to maintaining personal health. What your body needs most when trying to fight off any infection is plenty of rest and water. You can also try an over-the-counter cough medicine that helps to loosen the cough. While this may make you cough more, it will help to clear the infection sooner. It is important not to suppress the cough, as this can cause further infection by drying out the mucous membranes. Thus, cough suppressants are generally only recommended at night to help to you get some rest if the cough is interfering with sleep. In addition, you can try using a humidifier to soothe the cough, and avoid lung irritants (such as cigarette smoke). If you are a smoker – it is essential that you stop smoking naturally.
Antibiotics are not usually prescribed for bronchitis as the most common causes are viral infections. However, if your doctor suspects a bacterial infection, or if you are at high risk for developing complications (such as those people with a lung disease or asthma) antibiotics may be recommended as a precautionary measure. Remember, that as antibiotics rob your system of ‘good’ bacteria – it is important to take probiotics, such as live culture yogurt, after a course of antibiotics.