Inflammation of the airways leading to the lungs and the lining of the bronchial tubes is called bronchitis. Bronchitis is a common condition that mostly develops from colds or respiratory infections. Bronchitis is characterized by thick discoloured mucus and cough.
Bronchitis can be of two types – acute or chronic. Acute bronchitis lasts for two to three weeks with continuing cough that wanes in a few days. Chronic bronchitis is, on the other hand, a more serious condition in which a constant irritation caused by the inflammation of the bronchial lining. Chronic bronchitis usuallylasts longer than three months and occurs for most days of the month. Painful cough, and sever wheezing with breathlessness can occur. Most individuals suffering from chronic bronchitis develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
World over, acute bronchitis affects about 5 percent of the adult population and 6 percent of children population every year. Chronic bronchitis and COPD affect about 329 million people world over and resulted in 2.9 million deaths in the year 2013.
Bronchitis is caused due to a number of factors.
- Smoking is the number one cause of bronchitis.
- Air pollution
- Inhalation of dust and irritating fumes.
- Allergies to dust mites and other consumable substances
- Flu viruses and bacteria
The signs and symptoms for chronic and acute bronchitis are the same.
- Cough with white, green, yellowish-green, or occasionally blood speckled coloured mucus
- Wheezing and shortness of breath
- Fever and chills
- Feeling of discomfort in the chest
The severity of bronchitis can be determined by medical practitioners.
When should I see a doctor?
You should consult a medical practitioner if
- You have a cough that lasts for more than two to three weeks
- Your cough disturbs sleep
- Cough is accompanied with a fever higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit
- Cough is accompanies with wheezing, breathiness and produces discoloured mucus
- The mucus has blood in it.
Acute bronchitis cases are usually resolved in about two to three weeks without any medication. Generally, home remedies like ginger, honey and hot liquids are given to soothe bronchitis.
Conventional treatment for acute bronchitis consists of simple measures that include drinking lots of fluids, getting plenty of rest, avoiding fumes or smoke, and taking a bronchodilator inhaler or cough syrup. In chronic cases, oral steroids may be required to bring down inflammation.
If the patient is otherwise healthy and has normal lungs, and no other chronic health problems, antibiotics may not be required. Also, in case of a viral infection, antibiotics would not work. The patient may even get a productive/ phlegm producing cough with acute bronchitis. Although it is body’s defence mechanism against excess mucous, but a cough suppressant might be helpful if the cough is disruptive.
The patient may be prescribed acetaminophen or aspirin to ease the discomfort, and drinking lots of fluids can be helpful too. However, it is important not to give aspirin to a child under the age of 19 years as it may increase the risk of a complication known as Reye’s syndrome.
In people with chronic bronchitis, the lungs may become vulnerable to infections, so the doctor may advise getting a flu shot or pneumonia injection.
Acute bronchitis is easily cured with home remedies and the prognosis is generally excellent. However, chronic cases of bronchitis cause long-term symptoms and can develop into COPD. Stopping smoking is crucial to a good prognosis. Untreated chronic bronchitis can lead to severe lung damage.
Bronchitis can be prevented if the following precautions are taken –
- Avoiding and stopping smoking
- Avoiding exposure to second hand smoke
- Exercising caution with allergens and irritants known to cause bronchitis
- Maintaining caution with flu-affected individuals
- Avoiding lengthy exposure to air pollution
- Preventing spread of infection causing bronchitis