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.