Bronchitis is the inflammation of the bronchi, the main air passages to the lungs, it generally follows a viral respiratory infection. Symptoms include; coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing and fatigue.
Bronchitis is an inflammation of the main air passages to the lungs. Bronchitis may be short-lived (acute) or chronic, meaning that it lasts a long time and often recurs.
Inflammation - bronchi
Acute bronchitis generally follows a viral respiratory infection. Initially, it affects your nose, sinuses, and throat and then spreads to the lungs. Sometimes, you may get another (secondary) bacterial infection in the airways.This means that bacteria infect the airways, in addition to the virus.
People at risk for acute bronchitis include:
Chronic bronchitis is a long-term condition. People have a cough that produces excessive mucus. To be diagnosed with chronic bronchitis, you must have a cough with mucus most days of the month for at least 3 months.
Chronic bronchitis is also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD for short. (Emphysema is another type of COPD.) As the condition gets worse, you become increasingly short of breath, have difficulty walking or exerting yourself physically, and may need supplemental oxygen on a regular basis.
Cigarette smoke, including long-term exposure to second-hand smoke, is the main cause of chronic bronchitis. The severity of the disease often relates to how much you smoked or how long you were exposed to the smoke.
The following things can make bronchitis worse: Air pollution, certain occupations (like coal mining, textile manufacturing, or grain handling), infection, and allergies.
The symptoms of either type of bronchitis include:
Even after acute bronchitis has cleared, you may have a dry, nagging cough that lingers for several weeks.
Additional symptoms of chronic bronchitis include:
Exams and Tests
For acute bronchitis caused by a virus, you DO NOT need antibiotics. The infection will generally clear on its own within one week. Take the following steps for some relief:
If your symptoms do not improve, your doctor may prescribe an inhaler to open your airways. If your doctor thinks that you have a secondary bacterial infection, antibiotics will be prescribed.
For chronic bronchitis, the most important step you can take is to QUIT smoking. If caught early enough, you can reverse the damage to your lungs. Other important steps include:
Your doctor will usually prescribe inhaled medicines for chronic bronchitis. These drugs, which include bronchodilators like albuterol and ipratropium, open your constricted airways and aid in the clearance of mucus. An oral bronchodilator called theophylline and steroids (either inhaled or by mouth) are often necessary as well. If you have an active infection, your doctor will put you on antibiotics and sometimes recommend regular antibiotics to prevent infection.
If you have low oxygen levels, home oxygen will be used.
For acute bronchitis, symptoms usually resolve within 7 to 10 days if you do not have an underlying lung disorder. However, a dry, hacking cough can linger for a number of months.
The chance for recovery is poor for people with advanced chronic bronchitis. Early recognition and treatment, combined with smoking cessation, significantly improve the chance of a good outcome.
Pneumonia can develop from either acute or chronic bronchitis. If you have chronic bronchitis, you are susceptible to recurrent respiratory infections. You may also develop:
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your doctor if:
Murray JF, Nadel JA. Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders; 2000; 1215-1216.
Macfarlane J, Holmes W, Gard P, Thornhill D, Macfarlane R, Hubbard R. Providing patient information reduces antibiotic use in acute bronchitis. Evidence-based Healthcare. 2002; 6(3): 130.
Radon K. Passive smoke exposure: a risk factor for chronic bronchitis and asthma in adults? Chest. 2002; 122(3): 1086-1090.