Bronchitis is a condition in which the lining of the bronchial tubes becomes inflamed. The bronchial tubes are airways that connect the trachea or windpipe to the lungs. The delicate bronchial tubes produce mucous and are responsible for protecting the respiratory system. The inflammation of the bronchial tubes during bronchitis narrows the airways resulting in breathlessness, coughing spells accompanied by thick phlegm.
Both adults and children can suffer bronchitis. Smokers and people who work with substances that can irritate the lungs (e.g. grains or textiles) are more likely to suffer from bronchitis.
Bronchitis is usually observed along with upper respiratory infections that can be viral or even bacterial. Usually if a person is in otherwise good health, bronchitis clears up by itself within a couple of weeks. This is called acute bronchitis.
Bronchitis which lasts more than three months is called chronic bronchitis and can last from several months to years. In the case of chronic bronchitis, there is usually a persistent infection of the bronchial tubes that remain red and inflamed. Medical intervention is required in these cases.
Why should I be aware of this?
It is necessary to know as much as possible about bronchitis as it is common in many people, can come annually or semi-annually, and in most cases it is much worse than common cold. Often bronchitis follows a common cold. Knowing about this illness can help us diagnose, treat, or even prevent it altogether.
The most recognisable symptom of bronchitis is a cough. The cough may be dry or may bring up yellowish-grey or greenish mucous. Other symptoms of bronchitis include shortness of breath, a tight feeling in the chest and wheezing. Bronchitis and the presence of discoloured mucous often indicate that there is a secondary infection. This usually causes symptoms such as fever, chills, headache and a general feeling of illness.
All about bronchitis
Causes of bronchitis
Acute bronchitis is generally caused by lung infections. In 90% of cases, this infection is viral and the remaining is caused by bacteria. There are several viruses that can cause acute bronchitis including the common “flu” or influenza virus. Among the bacteria, pneumonia is known to cause bronchitis. Germs from viruses can be spread if a person touches their nose, eyes or mouth after coming in contact with respiratory fluids from an infected person. Acute bronchitis can also be caused by exposure to cigarette smoke, chemical fumes from household products and smog. Workers that are exposed to irritants such as dust or fumes may suffer acute bronchitis that clears up when the exposure stops. This is called occupational bronchitis.
According to the NHS Direct website, the main cause of chronic bronchitis is smoking, and affects both the smokers themselves as well as those are exposed to second hand smoke. People who are continually exposed to industrial pollution also suffer from chronic bronchitis. It has been observed that coal miners, grain handlers and metal moulders have higher than normal rates of chronic bronchitis. Repeated bouts of acute bronchitis can weaken the bronchial tubes and cause chronic bronchitis.
Diagnosis of bronchitis
A physician will usually diagnose bronchitis by listening to a patient’s chest using a stethoscope and hearing about their symptoms. The doctor may recommend a chest x-ray to check for complications such as pneumonia. A sputum culture may also be recommended. The sputum culture tests for bacteria in the sputum produced when a person coughs.
In certain cases, the doctor may recommend a PFT or a pulmonary function test. This test is conducted with a spirometer and measures the volume of air in the lungs after a person takes a deep breath and blows out. The PFT test checks for signs of emphysema and asthma.
Treatment of bronchitis
In normally healthy people, with no chronic illnesses, the treatment for acute bronchitis that is viral in origin is the same as other viral infections- plenty of rest is recommended along with the intake of extra fluids. For the other symptoms of viral infection such as fever, chills and aches, a pain killer can be taken. For the cough that usually accompanies bronchitis, a cough medication can be taken. Coughing is part of our body’s mechanism to expel excessive mucus- and therefore the cough medication should only be strong enough to provide relief for the patient and not completely suppress the cough. In case the bronchitis is of bacterial origin, a doctor may prescribe a course of broad spectrum antibiotics. In case a person experiences tightness in the chest and wheezing, a bronchodilator may be prescribed, which helps open the airways reducing wheezing.
For chronic bronchitis, there is no real cure, however changes to lifestyle help alleviate symptoms and make the condition more manageable. For most people this entails reducing their exposure to irritants and pollutants, and stopping smoking. In case a person has severe chronic bronchitis where the body’s ability to transfer oxygen from the lungs to the bloodstream is significantly compromised, the physician may recommend oxygen therapy.
What can I do?
How to get relief?
- Drinking hot or warm liquids such as soup or tea can bring relief from pain by loosening up mucus in the lungs.
- When you have a cough, use a humidifier in the room as warm, moist air helps loosen the mucus in the airways
- For children there are child-strength medications, although they should always be used in moderation.
- Consuming food and drink rich in Vitamin C helps considerably.
- Adequate rest can help fight off infection faster.
- Avoid smoking and even second-hand smoke.
- Stay warm and drink plenty of fluids
- Steam inhalation helps clear the airways and provides relief
- Reduce physical activity to a minimum.
How can I prevent bronchitis?
- Though it can be difficult to avoid bronchitis in life one can always decrease ones chances of getting it by staying away from people with a cold.
- Wash your hands often and consume a lot of fruits and vegetables to keep your immune system healthy.
- Not smoking also decreases your risk of getting bronchitis.
- Those living in less polluted areas tend to get bronchitis much less.
Here are some of the alternative treatments you might want to look into:
Aromatherapy - Aromatherapy can help make breathing easier, make you relax, and enable you to sleep peacefully without coughing. This means you should be able to reserve your energy for recovery.
Herbal tea – eases the irritation and inflammation, expands your airways and eases breathing.
Ginger - a great way to ease coughing and sore throat. Boil a bit of crushed ginger root into a tea. This is very effective for getting rid of built up phlegm.
Acupuncture - The World Heath Organization has bronchitis on the list of illnesses treatable by acupuncture? It can help ease your symptoms and give your immune system a huge boost.
- Chronic bronchitis is more common in the UK than anywhere else in the world.
- Respiratory illness, such as bronchitis and pneumonia, cause one-third of all 'excess winter deaths'.
- Bronchitis is the second most frequent cause of lost working days, accounting for more than 30 million days lost each year.
- About Bronchitis
- Bronchitis: Diagnosis
- Bronchitis Causes and Symptoms
- Bronchitis Risk factors
- Brief overview of bronchitis