Bronchitis is a condition that describes inflammation of the bronchial tubes. Bronchial tubes are the tubes that take air into your lungs.
Individuals with the condition of bronchitis typically have a cough that brings up mucus, which is a slimy material that is produced by the lining of your bronchial tubes.
This condition results in chest pain/discomfort, shortness of breath, low-grade fever, and a whistling/squeaky sound when you’re breathing.
There are two main types of this condition:
- Short-term (acute)
- Ongoing (chronic)
What is Acute Bronchitis?
Acute bronchitis describes the condition caused by lung irritants or infections. The same viruses that cause you to get a cold or the flu commonly cause this condition. These viruses travel through the air when people cough.
Additionally, this condition can be spread through physical contact with someone who has the condition- especially if they have not washed their hands. In some cases, bacteria can cause acute bronchitis.
Most of the time, acute bronchitis only lasts for up to ten days- but a cough may last for several weeks after the infection has cleared up.
There are several things that increase your risk of developing this infection such as smoke from tobacco (even secondhand smoke), air pollution, vapors, fumes, and dust.
You should do your best to avoid these lung contaminants as much as possible to lower your risk.
In most cases, acute bronchitis will clear up in a few days. If you believe that you have this condition, be sure to see your physician.
He/she will want to do some testing to ensure that there are not any other serious health conditions present.
On the other hand, chronic bronchitis is a serious condition that is long-term. This condition occurs when the lining of your bronchial tubes is always inflamed and irritated.
This occurs in conjunction with a long-term mucus cough and is typically the result of long-term smoking.
When you have chronic bronchitis, bacteria and viruses can easily get in and infect your already irritated bronchial tubes.
When this occurs, it causes this condition to last that much longer and become even worse.
Therefore, individuals who have chronic bronchitis will experience periods of time when their signs and symptoms seem to get better and periods of time when their signs and symptoms seem to worsen. Chronic bronchitis is a very serious medical condition that lasts long-term.
However, you can improve your quality of life by getting an early diagnosis and treatment, as well as quitting smoking and making sure that you avoid secondhand smoke.
However, the chance of a complete recovery is very low for those who have very severe chronic bronchitis.
What are the Causes of Bronchitis?
This condition is the result of lung irritants or lung infections. Most commonly, the very same viruses that result in a cold or the flu are what cause acute bronchitis. In some cases, bacteria can cause this condition.
You should be aware that there are specific substances that can cause your lungs and airways to become irritated and therefore increase your risk of developing acute bronchitis. Some of these substances include:
- Air pollution
- Tobacco smoke
In addition to increasing your risk of developing this condition, these substances can also make your symptoms much worse.
Also, when you’re exposed to a high level of fumes and/or dust, such as those from a major fire or explosion, you are also at an increased risk for this condition.
When you are repeatedly breathing in those substances that can cause lung irritation and lung/airway damage, you are exposing yourself to an increased risk of developing chronic bronchitis.
One of the major causes of this condition is smoking- or breathing in secondhand smoke. Another cause is breathing in environmental or workplace fumes, dust, and air pollution.
Individuals who have this condition will find that they have periods of time when their condition seems to be much worse. When this happens, they are experiencing a case of acute bacterial or viral bronchitis.
Who is at Risk for this Condition?
The truth is that bronchitis is actually an extremely common condition. In fact, millions of cases of this condition are diagnosed every year.
No matter where you are on the age spectrum, you could develop this condition.
However, infants, young children, and the elderly are at a much higher risk of developing a case of acute bronchitis than those in other age brackets.
Individuals of all ages can develop chronic bronchitis. However, it does occur most often in those over the age of 45.
In addition, most of the time, it is adults who are/were smokers that develop this condition. Women are two times more likely to become diagnosed with chronic bronchitis than men.
If you are a smoker or you have an existing lung condition, you are at a much greater risk of developing this condition.
If you are exposed to chemical vapors and fumes or dust at your job, you are also at an increased risk of developing this condition.
Some examples of this would be livestock farming, coal mining, grain handling, and textile manufacturing.
Lung infections, allergies, and air pollution can cause the signs and symptoms of chronic bronchitis to be much worse, especially if you are a smoker.
Signs and Symptoms of Bronchitis
As we have already mentioned, many times, acute bronchitis is a condition that develops after you have had the flu or a cold.
The symptoms of the flu or a cold include the following:
- A sore throat
- Stuffy/runny nose
- Body aches
The primary symptom of the condition of acute bronchitis is a persistent cough. This can last anywhere from ten to twenty days.
When you cough, you may notice phlegm or a clear, slimy substance. However, if you’re coughing up a yellow/green mucus substance, you also have a bacterial infection.
Even after this infection does clear up, you’re still likely to experience a dry cough for several days or even weeks.
Some of the other symptoms of this condition include the following:
- Tightness/pain in the chest
- Low-grade fever
Finally, if you have a severe case of acute bronchitis, you may also experience shortness of breath, especially when participating in strenuous physical activity.
On the other hand, the signs and symptoms of chronic bronchitis include the following symptoms- wheezing, chest discomfort, and coughing.
Most of the time, the coughing produces large amounts of phlegm and is often referred to as “smoker’s cough.”
Getting Diagnosed with Bronchitis
Typically, your physician will diagnose you with the condition of bronchitis based on the signs and symptoms you are experiencing.
He/she may ask you a few questions about a cough you have such as the length of time you have had it, whether or not it is a productive cough, how much phlegm the cough is producing, and how often you are coughing.
In addition, your physician will ask you questions about the following:
- Your medical history
- Whether you’ve recently dealt with the flu or a cold
- Whether you are around smokers or you smoke yourself
- Whether you have been on fumes, air pollution, dust, or vapors of any kind
In addition, he/she will use a stethoscope to listen to your lungs for a wheezing sound or any other abnormal sounds. Wheezing is when there is a squeaky/whistling sound when you’re breathing.
Finally, he/she may do the following:
- Look at your phlegm to check for a bacterial infection
- Use a sensor attached to your toe or fingertip to check your blood oxygen levels
- Recommend blood tests, a chest x-ray, or other lung function tests
How to Treat the Condition of Bronchitis
The primary focus of treating both acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis is simply to make it easier for you to breathe as well as relieve some of the other symptoms.
In most cases, if you are suffering from acute bronchitis, your physician will most likely recommend that you get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids, and take aspirin or acetaminophen to manage your fever.
In most cases, antibiotics are not used to treat acute bronchitis. This is because they don’t work for treating viruses, which is the most common cause of this condition.
On the other hand, if your physician suspects that you may have a bacterial infection of some kind, he/she is likely to prescribe a round of antibiotics.
Consider getting a humidifier, taking a hot shower, leaning over a pot of hot water to loosen the mucus and help relieve the problem of limited air flowing into your lungs and wheezing.
If you do have a wheeze, your physician is likely to prescribe an inhaler of some kind to help open up your airways.
The inhaler allows the medication to go directly to your lungs instead of having to take it orally and then waiting for it to travel through your bloodstream and into your lungs.
Finally, most of the time, your physician will also prescribe medications that will relieve- or at least reduce- your cough and treat the inflammation in your airways- especially if you are experiencing a persistent cough.
If you are suffering from chronic bronchitis and you have also been given a diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD, you are most likely going to need medication to help open up your airways and clear away the mucus. These medications are:
- Inhaled- bronchodilators
- Steroids- inhaled or tablet form
In addition to these treatments, if you have been diagnosed with chronic bronchitis, your physician is likely to recommend oxygen therapy.
This treatment will help you to breathe so much easier and will give your body the oxygen it so desperately needs.
One of the absolute best ways of treating both acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis is to avoid or remove the substance that is resulting in damage and irritation to your lungs.
So, if you’re a smoker, it is critical that you quit before you make your condition worse than it already is.
There are many products and programs available to help you to quit smoking. Consider speaking with your physician about these products and programs.
In addition, you should do whatever you can to avoid being exposed to secondhand smoke and other irritants such as air pollution, fumes, vapors, and dust.
Tips for Preventing Bronchitis
Actually, the truth is that you really can’t completely prevent either acute bronchitis or chronic bronchitis. On the other hand, there are a few things that you can do in order to lower your risk of developing either one of these conditions.
The very first step- if you’re a smoker- is to quit smoking. If you’re not already a smoker, don’t start now.
In addition to not smoking, you should do whatever you can to avoid any other irritants to your lungs such as vapors, dust, air pollution, and fumes.
If you’re going to be working with dangerous substances, make sure that you use a mask over your nose and mouth to help protect your lungs.
Some of these substances include:
- Paint Remover
- Other harsh substances
Finally, make sure that you are washing your hands regularly in order to limit the amount of exposure to bacteria and germs that you have.
Your physician may possibly recommend that you get a flu shot every year as well as a pneumonia vaccine.
How to Live with Chronic Bronchitis
If you have been diagnosed with chronic bronchitis, you should know that it’s not going to clear up on its own.
This is something that you’ll likely always have. However, even though you won’t clear it up, there are some steps you can take to gain control of your symptoms.
Simple changes in lifestyle and caring for yourself can help you get the control you need.
Make some Changes in Your Lifestyle
As I have already mentioned, the very first step is to quit smoking if you’re a smoker and do not start if you’re not a smoker.
If you are currently a smoker, speak with your physician about products and programs that can assist you in the process of quitting.
In addition, you want to do everything you can to avoid any other irritants to your lungs such as air pollution, dust, fumes, secondhand smoke, and vapors. This will go far in keeping your lungs healthy.
You must wash your hands often- especially after being exposed to someone that is sick, going to the bathroom, before and after eating, and any other time you have been exposed to germs- in order to lower your risk for developing a bacterial or viral infection. If at all possible, avoid those that you know have the flu or a cold.
If you do have signs and symptoms of the flu or a cold, be sure to see your physician right away so that you can get the proper treatment.
As much as possible, you want to make sure you’re consuming a healthy diet and that you’re getting a sufficient amount of exercise- approximately 30 mins of moderate exercise each day.
A healthy diet includes a wide variety of whole grains, fruits, and veggies. In addition, you should be eating fish, poultry, and lean meats as well as drinking low-fat or fat-free milk.
Finally, a healthy diet is low in cholesterol, added sugars, saturated fats, sodium, and trans fats.
Keeping Yourself Healthy
Overall, you need to make sure that you’re visiting your physician regularly to maintain your health.
If you are on medications for any reason, make sure that you are taking them as your physician prescribed them. Also, check with him/her about getting an annual flu shot as well as a vaccine to protect you against pneumonia.
If you are suffering from chronic bronchitis, you might gain some benefits from pulmonary rehabilitation, also called PR.
This is a very broad program that assists in improving the well-being of those who have chronic problems breathing.
Often, individuals who are suffering from chronic bronchitis breathe fast. Discuss your breathing with your doctor and find out more about pursed-lip breathing.
This is a method that will decrease the frequency with which you take breaths and will keep your airways open a bit longer than with your normal breathing.
Therefore, more air will be flowing in and out of your lungs and you will be able to be more physically active.
Pursed-lip breathing starts with you taking a breath in through your nose. Then, slowly, let that breath flow out through your slightly pursed lips. You can pretend you are blowing out a candle.
The exhale should be two or three times longer than the inhale. While getting the hang of it, some people find that it’s easier for them if they count to two while taking a breath in and then count to four or six when letting that breath out.