Bronchitis, also known as a chest cold, is inflammation of the bronchial tubes. These are the airways that carry air into your lungs. Bronchitis can be divided into two types: acute and chronic. Chronic bronchitis is one type of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Unlike acute bronchitis which goes away on its own in a week or two, chronic bronchitis goes on for a long time and is not curable. Your symptoms may get better or worse over time, but they always linger on. Treatments are available to help control the symptoms and make you feel better.
The most common cause of chronic bronchitis is cigarette smoking. When tobacco smoke is inhaled into the lungs, it irritates the airways, and produces mucus. In addition, people who are exposed to air pollution, fumes, or dust over a long period of time can also develop the condition.
Factors that increase your risk of bronchitis include:
- Low resistance. This may result from other acute illnesses, such as a cold, or from a chronic condition that compromises your immune system. Older adults, infants and young children are much more vulnerable to infection.
- Exposure to irritants on the job. Your risk of developing bronchitis is higher if you work in an environment with certain lung irritants, such as grains or textiles, or are exposed to chemical fumes.
- Gastric reflux. Repeated bouts of severe heartburn can irritate your throat and make you more prone to developing bronchitis.
Symptoms of chronic bronchitis include:
- Persistent cough that produces clear, white, yellowish or green mucus
- Shortness of breath
- Slight fever and chills
- Chest discomfort
Visit your doctor if your cough:
- Lasts more than three weeks
- Produces blood or discolored mucus
- Prevents you from sleeping
- Is associated with wheezing or shortness of breath
- Is accompanied by fever higher than 100.4 F (38℃)
Your doctor may make following examinations to diagnose acute bronchitis:
- doing a physical exam
- reviewing your symptoms
- listening to your lungs with a stethoscope
- ordering a chest X-ray to look at your lungs and rule out pneumonia
The goal of treatment for chronic bronchitis is to relieve symptoms, prevent complications and slow the progression of the disease. Treatment may include:
- Bronchodilator Medications may help to relieve symptoms of chronic bronchitis by relaxing and opening the air passages in the lungs, so you can breathe better. Bronchodilator medications are inhaled as aerosol sprays or taken orally.
- Oxygen Therapy. As a patient’s disease worsens, they may find it increasingly difficult to breathe on their own. So they may require supplemental oxygen. Oxygen comes in various forms. It may be delivered with different devices, including those you can use at home.
- Steroids can help relieve symptoms of chronic bronchitis. However, a long term use of inhaled steroids can cause side effects, such as: weakened bones, high blood pressure, diabetes and cataracts. It is important to discuss these side effects with your doctor before using steroids.
- Antibiotics may be used to help fight respiratory infections common in people with chronic bronchitis.
- Pulmonary Rehabilitation is an important part of chronic bronchitis treatment. It includes:
- nutrition counseling,
- learning special breathing techniques,
- help with quitting smoking and starting an exercise regimen.
To reduce your risk of getting chronic bronchitis, follow these tips:
- Quit smoking which damages your bronchial tubes and slows down the healing process.
- Wear a surgical mask over your nose and mouth when using lung irritants, such as paint, paint remover, varnish, or anything else with strong fumes.
- Wash your hands frequently to reduce your risk of catching a viral infection.
- Get a flu shot every year.
- Ask your doctor if you should get a pneumonia shot, especially if you are over age 60.
If you have any problem, please consult your doctor.
Keywords: bronchitis; chronic bronchitis.