Bronchitis is an infection of the tubes that carry air to the lungs. The major symptom is cough. There are two types of bronchitis: acute (sudden onset) and chronic (long-standing).
Acute bronchitis is usually a result of viral infection such as the common cold. The most common symptom of acute bronchitis is nagging cough. Treatment involves treating the symptoms, such as sore throat and congestion.
- Viral infection of the upper airways, such as common cold or flu.
- Less commonly, bacteria such as Bordetella pertussis, which causes pertussis (whooping cough), in unimmunized people.
- Fever higher than 100.4°F
- Cough lasting more than 10 days
- Cough with mucous (sputum) of any colour (clear, yellow or green)
- Chest pain when you cough,
- Troubled breathing or coughing up blood
- Barking cough that makes it hard to talk
- Fever is not common in people with acute bronchitis.
Consult your doctor if you have any of the following:
- Cough is very severe or lasts longer than three weeks
- Fever for more than three days
- Sputum is streaked with blood
- Difficulty in breathing (more than 30 breaths a minute) or chest pain
- Drowsy or confused
- Underlying heart or lung condition
- Older than 70.
- Persistent cough after an upper respiratory infection (cold) does not require medical attention.
- X-rays, cultures and blood tests are not usually needed for people with acute bronchitis. Tests may be advised if the diagnosis is not clear, or if another condition, such as pneumonia, is suspected.
- There is no specific treatment for bronchitis.
- To get relief from symptoms
- Non-steroidal ant-inflammatory agents or paracetamol can help relieve the pain of sore throat or headache.
- Steam inhalation can improve symptoms of nasal congestion and runny nose.
- Cough suppressant medications have not been shown to be helpful for most patients.
Antibiotics are NOT helpful for most people with bronchitis as the illness is typically caused by virus. Antibiotics treat bacterial, not viral infections.
- Hand washing is an essential and highly effective way to prevent the spread of infection. Alcohol-based hand rubs are also effective. Wash your hands:
- Before preparing food and eating
- After going to bathroom
- After coughing, blowing nose or sneezing
- Use a tissue to cover your mouth when sneezing or coughing. Throw away used tissues promptly and then wash your hands. Sneezing and coughing without covering your mouth can spread infection to anyone within six feet.
- While it is not always possible to limit contact with people who are ill, avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth after direct contact.
Chronic bronchitis is a result of chronic irritation to the airways that lead to the lungs, often due to smoking. In this condition cough may be present every day for three months or longer.
Causes for chronic bronchitis
- Smoking is the commonest cause, and can damage the lungs forever.
- Breathing in toxic fumes or gases.
Symptoms of Chronic Bronchitis
- Cough on most days for at least three months, for two years in a row
- Feeling very tired
- Feeling short of breath
- Chest discomfort or tightness
- X-ray of chest
- Spirometry/Pulmonary function test: This tests evaluate the functional capacity of the lung.
Is there anything I can do to feel better?
Yes. Stop smoking!
Quitting will slow your disease and help you feel better.
You should also get the influenza vaccine every year and the pneumonia vaccine at least once.
Treating Chronic Bronchitis
- Medicines – Inhalers that help open up the airways and reduce swelling in the airways. Sometimes, people need steroids when their symptoms get worse.
- Oxygen – If the condition gets worse, some people need to use oxygen for breathing.
- Pulmonary rehabilitation – In pulmonary rehab, people learn things they can do to improve their symptoms. They learn exercises and ways to breathe that can help ease symptoms.