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Causes, Signs and Treatment of Bronchitis

Bronchitis is a condition where the tubes, that are responsible for carrying air to the lungs, become inflamed. These tubes are commonly known as the bronchial tubes. Individuals often suffer from a cough that produces mucus when they have bronchitis. The bronchial tube lining makes the mucus. People with bronchitis may have chest discomfort, low grade fever and wheezing. There are several versions of bronchitis, including chronic bronchitis, industrial bronchitis, and acute bronchitis.

Fast Facts about Bronchitis

  • Bronchitis is a condition where the bronchial tubes that carry air to the lungs become inflamed.
  • A cough that produces mucus is common with bronchitis.
  • Chronic bronchitis and acute bronchitis are the main kinds of bronchitis.
  • Irritants and infections are the main cause of acute bronchitis.
  • Chronic bronchitis is a serious and ongoing condition.
  • The main cause of chronic bronchitis happens to be smoking. Workplace irritations can also cause it.
  • Existing lung disease and smoking raise your risk for bronchitis.
  • Symptoms of bronchitis are chest pain or tightness, low grade fever, wheezing and cough.
  • Signs and symptoms are used to diagnose bronchitis. Tests can also be used.
  • You can lower your risk for bronchitis, but it cannot be completely prevented.
  • If you have chronic bronchitis you should never smoke, keep your doctor appointments, take your medications, stay active and eat a healthy diet.

Types of Bronchitis

The two types of bronchitis are short term (acute) and ongoing (chronic). Acute bronchitis is caused by lung irritants or infection such as cold and flu viruses. Acute bronchitis can also be caused by a bacterial infection. While acute bronchitis usually lasts for 10 days or less, the associated cough can last for weeks after the infection has been cleared up.

Chronic bronchitis is a serious condition that is ongoing. The main cause of chronic bronchitis happens to be smoking. Chronic bronchitis occurs when the bronchial tube lining is perpetually inflamed and irritated. Infection can make chronic bronchitis symptoms much worse.

Common Causes of Bronchitis

Acute bronchitis is typically triggered by lung irritants and infection. While the condition is sometimes caused by bacteria, it is usually caused by cold and flu viruses. There are substances that raise your the risk of acute bronchitis because they irritate the lungs. Being exposed to or inhaling these can increase your risk:

  • Dust
  • Air pollution
  • Fumes
  • Vapors
  • Tobacco smoke

Being exposed to an excessive amount of fumes or dust from fire or an explosion can also cause acute bronchitis.

The repeated inhalation of irritating fumes can damage the lungs. Chronic bronchitis is caused by this repeated inhalation and smoking is the most common cause. Environmental irritants from the workplace can also lead to chronic bronchitis.

Risk Factors for Bronchitis

The highest risk age groups for bronchitis are young children, infants and the elderly. The condition is very common. Chronic bronchitis can be found in people of any age, but it is more commonly found in smokers who are over the age of 45.

Existing lung disease and smoking are two factors that seriously increase the risk of bronchitis. People whose jobs put them at risk for bronchitis are textile manufacturers, live stock farmers, grain handlers and coal miners.

Symptoms of Bronchitis

Cold or flu usually preclude acute bronchitis. The symptoms of these illnesses are:

  • Runny nose
  • Body aches
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

A cough that lasts between 10 to 20 days is the major symptom of acute bronchitis. Production of clear mucus may accompany the cough. When the mucus is green or yellow a bacterial infection may be involved. Other symptoms include chest pain or tightness, low grade fever and wheezing.

Smoker’s cough or a cough that produces a great deal of mucus is one of the symptoms of chronic bronchitis. Chest discomfort and wheezing are the other two main symptoms.

Diagnosing Bronchitis

Signs and symptoms are usually the basis for a diagnosis and your doctor will ask you to describe your cough and how long you have had it. Your doctor will also want to know if you smoke or spend time around smokers and what other irritants you have been exposed to. Whether you have recently had cold or flu is also important.

A stethoscope is also used so that your doctor can hear wheezing and other abnormal sounds in the lungs. A fingertip or toe sensor will be used to read your blood oxygen levels and the doctor may order blood tests, lung function tests or a chest x-ray.

Treatment Options for Bronchitis

Acute bronchitis is treated with fluids, acetaminophen or aspirin (adults only) for fever and rest. Unless your doctor believes that a bacterial infection is the cause of your acute bronchitis you will not get an antibiotic. Most commonly it is caused by a virus and antibiotics will not help. Humidifiers may help alleviate symptoms or you may need and inhaled medication to open the airways in your lungs. Medications to reduce cough may also be needed.

People who have chronic bronchitis may need oxygen therapy to ensure that their bodies are getting enough oxygen. When chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) accompanies chronic bronchitis patients might need medicine to clear mucus from and open their airways. These can be steroids or bronchodilators. Removing the source of the irritants is the best treatment for chronic bronchitis. Quitting smoking is very important.

Prevention of Bronchitis

Never smoking or quitting smoking is the best way to lower your risk for bronchitis, both acute and chronic. There is no way to completely prevent bronchitis but not smoking can help. Staying away from other irritants can help as well. Limiting your exposure to bacteria and germs by washing your hands frequently will also help minimize your risk.

Coping with Bronchitis

Ongoing care and lifestyle changes can help you control the symptoms of chronic bronchitis. The most important lifestyle choice is to never start or quit smoking. There are programs that can help you quit and you should discuss these with your doctor. Keep your lungs healthy by avoiding other irritants. Try and stay away from air pollution, vapors, fumes, dust and second hand smoke. Patients should stay as active as possible and eat a healthy diet.

Patients should take all of the medications they are prescribed and keep all doctor appointments. Pulmonary rehabilitation may help improve your wellbeing. Discuss with your doctor whether a yearly pneumonia vaccine and flu shot are right for you.