Bronchitis is an inflammation of the airways that carry air to the lungs commonly called bronchial tubes. Bronchitis mostly causes swelling of the bronchial tubes and lead to coughs and breathing complications. Bronchitis may be acute or chronic with both developing from cold or other respiratory infection. Acute bronchitis (chest cold) is very common while chronic bronchitis, which is more serious, is a continuous inflammation or irritation of the lining of the bronchial tubes because of smoking.
People with bronchitis find it difficult to breathe air and oxygen to the lungs and they hardly clear heavy phlegm or mucus from their airways. Chronic bronchitis is among the conditions included in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
The signs and symptoms of both acute and chronic bronchitis include:
- Production of mucus (sputum)
- Shortness of breath
- Chest discomfort
- Slight fever and chills
- Blocked nose and sinuses
- Sour throat
A person with acute bronchitis may display cold symptoms such as body aches or mild headache. Even though these symptoms often improve in about a week or ten days, you may have an irritating cough that lingers for weeks.
People with chronic bronchitis are likely to experience periods when their coughs and other symptoms get worse.
When to See a Doctor
See the doctor if your cough:
- Prevents you from sleeping
- Lasts more than 3 weeks
- Produces discolored mucus
- Is accompanied by fever that is higher than 38 degrees Celsius
- Is associated with shortness of breath and wheezing
- Produces blood
Acute bronchitis is mostly caused by viruses – cold and influenza viruses that also cause cold and flu.
The most common cause of chronic bronchitis is cigarette smoking. Dust and air pollution or toxic gases in the surrounding or workplace may contribute to the disease.
Factors that increase risk of bronchitis are:
- Low resistance: It may be caused by another acute disease such as cold, flu, or from chronic disease that affects the immune system.
- Cigarette smoke: Individuals who smoke or who live with a smoker are at increased risk of both chronic and acute bronchitis.
- Gastric reflux: Repeated bouts of extreme heartburn can nag a person’s throat and make him/her vulnerable to bronchitis.
- Exposure to irritants on the job: your risk of developing bronchitis is greater if the person works around particular lung irritants such as textiles or grains, or is exposed to chemical fumes.
The doctor will ask a few questions concerning symptoms and specifically the cough. The doctor may equally ask about medical history, whether they have suffered flu or cold in recent times, or they smoke, or exposed to substances such as vapors, fumes, dust, or air pollution.
The doctor may also use a stethoscope to listen for any unusual sounds in the lungs. The doctor may also test the oxygen levels in the blood or examine mucus and may recommend pulmonary lung function test, chest X-ray, or blood tests.
It is important to note that many cases of acute bronchitis disappear without any specific treatment. However, there is no cure for chronic bronchitis but it can be controlled. To keep the symptoms under control and relieve a patient from them, the doctors may prescribe:
- Cough Medicine: Several cough medicines exists in Kenya. You can find them in the hospitals or pharmacies with the prescription of the doctor.
- Bronchodilators: The medications in this category help to open up bronchial tubes and clear out mucus for smooth breathing.
- Mucolytics: They are drugs that loosen mucus in the airways and make it easier for a person to cough up sputum.
- Antibiotics: They are effective for bacterial infections but not viral infections. They help prevent secondary infections that may be associated with bronchitis.
- Pulmonary rehabilitation program: It includes working with a respiratory therapist to help improve breathing.
- Anti-inflammatory medicines and glucocorticoid steroids: These are medications for highly persistent symptoms as they help minimize chronic inflammation that may lead to tissue damage.
- Oxygen therapy: It helps improve oxygen intake when breathing is problematic.
- Avoid associating with sources of irritation to the lungs such as smoking, dust, vapors, fumes, and air pollution.
- Use humidifier: It helps loosen mucus and relieve limited wheezing or airflow
- Breathing exercise such as pursed-lip breathing that helps slow breathing down
- Exercise: Helps strengthen muscles involved in breathing
- Get yearly flu vaccine
- Wash hands frequently to limit exposure to bacteria and germs
- Get a pneumonia vaccine
For information on treatment, the best doctors, and hospitals near you, download the Uzima Health App on Google Play.