Bronchitis is a respiratory disease characterized by inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes. This condition can develop suddenly or it can be chronic and last for several months. In this article, we’ll provide you with an overview of bronchitis, going through the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for this disease.
What Is Bronchitis?
Many people develop acute bronchitis after suffering from the common cold or another type of respiratory infection. This condition typically lasts from one to three weeks. Chronic bronchitis is more common in those who smoke cigarettes regularly and can last from three months to several years. Emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD are two forms of chronic bronchitis that smokers often develop. People who suffer from the chronic respiratory condition asthma may develop asthmatic bronchitis. Because this medical condition causes the mucous membrane inside the bronchial tubes to thicken and swell, those who have it often have difficulty breathing and suffer bouts of coughing.
Certain people are at an increased risk of developing bronchitis. Let’s go over a few things that may raise the risk of developing this disease:
- Gastric reflux can make respiratory conditions more likely because it causes irritation of the throat and esophagus.
- Smoking cigarettes raises the risk of developing a variety of respiratory conditions, including bronchitis.
- Exposure to inhaled irritants at work also raises the risk of respiratory. This may include chemical and gas fumes.
Bronchitis symptoms include shortness of breath, cough, mucus discharge, chills, fever, and tightness in the chest. In cases of acute bronchitis, symptoms may linger for a few weeks, then disappear once inflammation of the bronchial tubes goes away. People who have chronic forms of the condition may have bouts of intense coughing that lasts off and on for several months.
Viral infections are the most common cause of acute bronchial conditions. Some of these viruses that may lead to these conditions include RSV, influenza, adenovirus, coronaviruses, rhinovirus.
Bacterial infections can also cause bronchial conditions. The most common types of bacteria that may cause bronchitis include Bordatella, Streptococcus, Mycoplasma, and Haemophilus.
Fungal infections such as Valley Fever are caused by a fungus called coccidioidomycosis. Recently, I have seen a number of cases. The symptoms are very similar to both bacterial and viral etiologies.
Acute Chest Syndrome is life-threatening condition seen in persons with sickle cell disease. It is a vaso-occlusive condition presenting with pneumonia-like symptoms; Namely, cough, fever, shortness of breath and wheezing.
Quickcare Or Emergency Room?
Most cases of acute bronchitis are not serious and treated fairly easily. However, it may be necessary to seek emergency care in certain instances such as:
- Shortness of breath
- High fever develops.
- Coughing produces bloody mucus.
What will your doctor ask?
Your doctor will want to know your symptoms. A symptom is your description of your condition to your doctor. It is your story
Doctors begin by taking a detailed medical history of the patient, asking questions such as if the patient has any pre-existing medical conditions and the date of symptom onset. Bronchitis symptoms include shortness of breath, cough, mucus discharge, chills, fever, and tightness in the chest. Symptoms of pneumonia are very similar.
What will your doctor look for?
Your doctor will look for signs. Remember, a sign is an objective finding that a doctor discovers upon examination.
After taking the patient’s history, doctors will take and record vital signs such as temperature, weight and blood pressure. During a physical examination, doctors will listen to the chest with a stethoscope for sounds of wheezing.
Because this condition often mimics the common cold, doctors may order a battery of tests to confirm the suspected diagnosis such as:
- Chest X-rays to rule out pneumonia or scarring of the lungs often seen in those with COPD or emphysema.
- Pulmonary function test to measure the amount of air your lungs can hold.
- Sputum tests on the mucus coming from the lungs. To diagnose valley fever, special fungal cultures are needed.
- Procalcitronin level helps to distinguish between bacterial and non-bacterial infections
What Is the Treatment For Bronchitis?
Mild cases of bronchitis may resolve on their own with rest, over-the-counter medicines and fluids. Many people take cough syrup for the cough and acetaminophen for the fever and chills. However, more severe cases of this condition may require specialized bronchitis treatment and prescription medications.
The most commonly prescribed medicines used to treat this condition include:
1. Prescription cough suppressants for those who are coughing so much they cannot sleep. Many doctors are reluctant to suppress a cough that is productive, but exceptions may be made if the patient is not resting at night due to intense bouts of coughing. At times I prescribe Robitussin with Codeine for the night.
2. Antibiotics may be prescribed if the doctor feels the infection is bacterial. I like to prescribe Zithromax. It is easy to take and very effective. Doctors don’t use these types of medicines to treat viral infections because they are not effective.
3. Albuterol inhalers (also known as Proair or ventolin)can be prescribed for those who are wheezing and have intense bouts of coughing. This medicine works by opening the bronchial tubes which makes it easier to breathe.
4. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (such as Motrin or Advil) are an important element of supportive care for the vast majority of cases. Cautious use of these medications with elderly patients is warranted.
While the chronic form may not be curable, there are medications such as inhaled or oral steroids that can help manage the symptoms of the disease.
In addition, your doctor may advise you to limit physical activity because this may compromise your breathing. Most people find they can manage this bronchial condition with medication and lifestyle changes.
How Long Will You Have Bronchitis?
Just how long this condition will last depends on the cause and severity of the condition. If you are diagnosed with acute bronchitis, you can typically expect your symptoms to develop two or three days after a cold. Your symptoms will last approximately two to four weeks before subsiding.
Chronic bronchitis is diagnosed when symptoms last at least three months and persist off and on for at least one year. Coughing and wheezing typically come and go in those who have the chronic form of the disease. This condition lasts longer in those who continue to smoke on a regular basis or in those who are exposed to inhaled irritants daily at work.
Those who have the acute form of the disease should see improvement in a few weeks after diagnosis.If you have symptoms of bronchitis that persist over several weeks and do not get better, see your doctor for advice.
Is bronchitis contagious?
Respiratory conditions like this one are contagious if they are caused by a virus or a certain type of bacteria. Most people are contagious two or three days before symptoms develop and continue as long as the bacteria or virus is active. In general, this condition is contagious until fever and coughing are gone.
If the condition is chronic and caused by emphysema or COPD, then it is not contagious. Fever is not present in those who have the chronic form of the disease.
I hope this helps