Bronchitis: Causes, symptoms, and treatments

Bronchitis is an inflammation or swelling of the bronchial tubes (bronchi), the air passages between the mouth and nose and the lungs.

More specifically, bronchitis describes a condition where the lining of the bronchial tubes becomes inflamed.

Individuals with bronchitis have a reduced ability to breathe air and oxygen into their lungs; also, they cannot clear heavy mucus or phlegm from their airways.

This article will cover the causes, symptoms, treatments, and prevention of bronchitis.

Fast facts about bronchitis

Here are some key points about bronchitis. More detail and supporting information is in the main article

Bronchitis can be caused by viruses, bacteria, and other particles that irritate the bronchial tubes

Acute bronchitis is a short-term illness that often follows a cold or viral infection

Chronic bronchitis is a long-term illness and can be the result of environmental factors or extended illness

Cigarette smoking is the most common cause of chronic bronchitis

Chest X-ray, lung function testing, and blood testing are used to diagnose bronchitis

Symptoms of bronchitis

Man coughing
Bronchitis is characterized by persistent coughing.

Signs and symptoms of both acute and chronic bronchitis include:

Persistent cough, which may produce mucus

Wheezing

Low fever and chills

Chest tightening

Sore throat

Body aches

Breathlessness

Headaches

Blocked nose and sinuses

One of the main symptoms of acute bronchitis is a cough that lasts for several weeks. It can sometimes last for several months if the bronchial tubes take a long time to heal fully.

It is common for the symptoms of chronic bronchitis to get worse two or more times every year, and they are often worse during the winter months.

However, a cough that refuses to go away could also be a sign of another illness such as asthma or pneumonia.

Bronchitis may be acute or chronic:

Acute bronchitis

Acute bronchitis is a shorter illness that commonly follows a cold or viral infection, such as the flu. It consists of a cough with mucus, chest discomfort or soreness, fever, and, sometimes, shortness of breath. Acute bronchitis usually lasts a few days or weeks.

Chronic bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis is a serious, ongoing illness characterized by a persistent, mucus-producing cough that lasts longer than 3 months out of the year for more than 2 years. People with chronic bronchitis have varying degrees of breathing difficulties, and symptoms may get better and worse during different parts of the year.

If chronic bronchitis occurs with emphysema, it may become chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Treatments for bronchitis

People suffering from bronchitis are usually instructed to rest, drink fluids, breath warm and moist air, and take OTC cough suppressants and pain relievers to manage symptoms and ease breathing.

Many cases of acute bronchitis go away without any specific treatment, but there is no cure for chronic bronchitis.
To keep bronchitis symptoms under control and relieve symptoms, doctors might prescribe:

Cough medicine – although coughing should not be completely suppressed as this is an important way to bring up mucus and remove irritants from the lungs. If you want to buy cough medicine, then there is an excellent selection online with thousands of customer reviews.

Bronchodilators – these open the bronchial tubes and clear out mucus.

Mucolytics – these thin or loosen mucus in the airways, making it easier to cough up sputum.

Anti-inflammatory medicines and glucocorticoid steroids – these are for more persistent symptoms to help decrease chronic inflammation that may cause tissue damage.

Oxygen therapy – this helps improve oxygen intake when breathing is difficult.

Pulmonary rehabilitation program – this includes work with a respiratory therapist to help improve breathing.

Antibiotics – these are effective for bacterial infections, but not for viral infections. They may also prevent secondary infections.

Additional behavioral remedies include:

Removing the source of irritation to the lungs – for example, by stopping smoking

Using a humidifier – this can loosen mucus and relieve limited airflow and wheezing

Exercise – this will strengthen the muscles involved in breathing

Breathing exercises – for example, pursed-lip breathing that helps to slow breathing down

Virus infection
Bronchitis is usually caused by viral infection.

Bronchitis is caused by the inflammation of the bronchial tubes, by viruses, bacteria, or other irritant particles.

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