Definition and Causes
Bronchitis is the inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes – airways that connect the windpipe (trachea) to the lungs. This lining is very delicate and is what produces mucus. Its job is to protect the lungs by keeping sickness-causing particles that make it past the nose from entering the lungs.
As the lining swells and mucus thickens, it becomes difficult for the lungs to take in and express oxygen and for your body to receive the oxygen it needs to function.
There are two kind of bronchitis: acute and chronic. Acute bronchitis usually comes on relatively quickly and is caused by the same virus that causes colds. And because it’s viral in origin, it cannot be treated with antibiotics. Symptoms usually last only a few weeks and clear up on their own.
Chronic bronchitis falls under the umbrella diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Chronic bronchitis, as the name implies, is chronic. It doesn't go away. The most common cause of chronic bronchitis is cigarette smoking, but breathing in fumes and dust over a long period of time may also cause it.
Those with chronic bronchitis are at higher risk for developing bacterial infections, such as pneumonia, and often take longer to recover from colds and other respiratory-related illnesses.
Those who suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may also develop bronchitis due to stomach acid sometimes getting into the upper airway and irritating tissues.
Symptoms of Bronchitis
Whether you have acute or chronic bronchitis, you may experience:
- production of mucus (clear, white, yellowish-gray or green in color)
- shortness of breath, which worsens with activity
- slight fever and chills
- chest discomfort
With acute bronchitis, you may experience a nagging cough which will persist for several weeks even after the lungs become clear. Be aware that mucus is not always produced with acute bronchitis and that children often swallow what they cough up, which may hide the fact that there is an underlying infection.
Chronic bronchitis develops because, over time, the continual inflammation of the lining of the bronchi results in scarring of the bronchial tubes. In addition to the above list, those with chronic bronchitis may experience:
- a cough that's worse in the mornings and during damp weather
- recurring respiratory infections (eg: cold or flu) accompanied by a worsening productive cough
See your doctor if:
- your cough is severe or keeps you from sleeping
- you have a persistent low-grade fever
- your cough continues for more than three weeks
- you have pre-existing chronic lung or heart problems
- you have recurring episodes of bronchitis
Treatment for Bronchitis
As with many illnesses, doctors will recommend plenty of rest and fluids, but in this case will also advise breathing in warm, moist air and over-the-counter cough suppressant and acetaminophen (Tylenol).
Antibiotics may be prescribed to treat any underlying bacterial infections that may be present, but antibiotics will not work against bronchitis if it is viral in nature.
Cough medicine may only be recommended if your coughing keeps you up at night. Believe it or not, a cough is actually good if it is removing irritants from your lungs and airways. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your doctor may also recommend a bronchodilator or "inhaler," which is commonly used to treat asthma symptoms. These medications are designed to relax and open up the bronchial tubes, so it is easier to clear mucus and to breathe.
If you experience multiple episodes of bronchitis, take inventory of your environment. Avoid cold, damp locations particularly where there is exposure to second-hand smoke or other air pollutants. If you live or work in such an environment, it may be necessary to move or change jobs to keep you healthy.
Health-conscious habits such as washing of hands, avoiding environments where you could be exposed to second-hand smoke, avoiding people who are sick, get plenty of rest and eat a proper diet are always good to fight off other illnesses, as well.
Sources: www.mayoclinic.com; www.lung.ca (Canadian Lung Association); kidshealth.org; www.nlm.nih.gov (U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health)
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I just found this video on You Tube that really shows how germs and viruses spread. It is so cool. It's meant for kids but I even learned a lot!January 12, 2010 - 11:57pm