Just about everyone has heard of bronchitis, but not everyone is fully aware of the symptoms, causes and treatments available. Potentially a serious condition, here are the most important aspects you need to know, because sometimes it can become an emergency.
What is Bronchitis?
Sometimes the lining of the bronchial tubes, those airways that take air to and from the lungs, can become inflamed. When this happens, the patient has bronchitis. There are two types, chronic and acute:
- Chronic Bronchitis — When the condition is chronic there is constant irritation and inflammation in the bronchial tubes. This is one of the conditions that fall under the general heading of COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
- Acute Bronchitis — Inflammation and irritation that lasts a few days and leaves no permanent damage behind. Repeated bouts could, however, indicate chronic bronchitis so if it keeps coming back you should see a doctor.
What Are The Causes of Bronchitis
The same viruses that cause colds and coughs cause acute bronchitis. Many people may develop a cold, which goes on to cause irritation in the lining of the bronchial tubes, creating bronchitis symptoms. The virus isn’t responsive to antibiotics.
Symptoms of Bronchitis
Symptoms in both acute and chronic bronchitis are similar, with variations in the length of time patients suffer. In acute bronchitis, you may have a cough that lasts a few weeks, even after the inflammation subsides. In chronic bronchitis, however, a productive cough (meaning you cough up phlegm) can last for several months at a time and recur several times over at least two consecutive years. Symptoms can include:
- Shortness of breath
- Fever and chills
- Production of mucus or sputum which may rarely contain blood
- Feeling tired or fatigued
- Having a cough
At times, chronic bronchitis sufferers find their symptoms grow worse and, if this happens, they’re said to have acute bronchitis on top of their chronic condition.
When to See a Doctor for Bronchitis
You should see a doctor for Bronchitis if you have a cough that lasts three or more weeks, especially if it’s bad enough to prevent you sleeping properly. Also see a doctor if you notice the following –
- If mucus produced is discolored
- You have a temperature higher than 100.4F
- You feel short of breath or
- Find blood in your mucus
- If bronchitis constantly returns, it could be a sign of developing COPD
- Some people with bronchitis go on to develop pneumonia.
Your doctor will ask plenty of questions, so it’s helpful if you can take someone along to the appointment to help you remember what’s been said. The questions from your doctor will include how long you’ve had symptoms, whether you have ever smoked, if you’ve noticed getting shorter of breath over the last year, whether you’ve had bronchitis before and how well you can climb a flight of stairs.
There are several ways of testing for bronchitis after first listening to your breathing through a stethoscope. The doctor may recommend a chest X-ray which can help to pinpoint any other possible causes for concern, or your sputum may be tested for illnesses that could be treated with antibiotics, or for allergies. A final test is a pulmonary function test, where you blow into a Bronchitis Emergency Room Treatment
If you visit an emergency room and your ER doctor diagnoses you with acute bronchitis, this will likely clear up on its own without needing medication. In some circumstances, your emergency room physician may prescribe medication such as cough medicine to help you bring up mucus and clear your airways. If coughing keeps you awake at night, a cough suppressant may be prescribed just for nighttime use.
While antibiotics won’t help a virus, you may be offered them if the doctor suspects a bacterial infection. For allergies that can cause asthma, or if you have COPD, you may be offered medication or an inhaler to help open the airways by reducing inflammation.
You could also consider using a humidifier at home, since moist air often helps to relieve coughs.
Risks and Preventions
You can’t totally prevent viral infections, but you can minimize your chances of becoming infected.
- The flu vaccine can help build up immunity, and other vaccines protect against certain types of pneumonia.
- If possible, avoid contact with cigarette smoke.
- Wash your hands frequently to avoid picking up viruses from surfaces.
- COPD sufferers could benefit from wearing a face mask when outside or in crowds.
People who smoke run a high risk of contracting chronic bronchitis, but others at risk include those with low resistance, such as anything that affects the immune system or if you’ve had a cold or flu. Your job may expose you to irritants such as textiles or grains, and if you suffer from gastric reflux this can make you less resistant to bronchial viruses.