In this article we will look at:
- What is bronchitis?
- How does bronchitis occur?
- Who is prone to bronchitis?
- What are the causes of bronchitis?
- What are the symptoms of bronchitis?
- How is bronchitis diagnosed?
- What are the complications of bronchitis?
- What is the treatment for bronchitis?
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What is bronchitis?
The inflammation of your bronchial tubes (bronchi), which are the air passages between the mouth, nose, and the lungs, is a condition known as bronchitis. This illness can be caused by viruses, bacteria, as well as allergens such as tobacco smoke, dust, fumes, vapours, and air pollution.
The most common cause of bronchitis is however viral infection. The symptoms of viral bronchitis are wheezing, burning pain, difficulty in breathing, and headache. Viral bronchitis can disappear on its own without medications, with simple home remedies.
How does bronchitis occur?
The same viruses that give you cold or flu cause bronchitis. Though, bacteria too can cause bronchitis.
The flu virus spreads through contact with an infected person, and through coughing and sneezing. When people who are infected, cough or sneeze, droplets are released into the air. People nearby inhale these droplets and get exposed to the virus.
Infection also spreads when unsuspecting people touch any surface, contaminated with the droplets of cough and sneezing of an infected person, and then touch their mouth or nose.
Almost all respiratory viruses spread this way.
When the germs enter your body, your immune system fights the germs, and during this phase, the bronchial passages may swell up and gear into action to create more mucus. This results in smaller openings for the air to flow through making it difficult to breathe for you. This is when bronchitis occurs.
People with bronchitis suffer from reduced ability to fully breathe in oxygen into their lungs due to the heavy mucus or phlegm congesting their airways.
There are two types of bronchitis:
- Acute Bronchitis: lasts for a shorter duration and commonly occurs after a cold or viral infection, such as the flu. It causes cough with mucus, fever, headache, and chest discomfort. It can last from three to four days to upto three to four weeks. Acute bronchitis is contagious.
- Chronic Bronchitis: is a persistent form of bronchitis that can last for upto three months or even upto two years. It is caused by repeated irritation and damage of the lung and airway tissue and is caused by air pollution, dust and fumes.
Who is prone to bronchitis?
Those who are prone to bronchitis include:
- People with a weak immune system, such as older adults and people with ongoing diseases, as well as for babies and young children.
- People who are chronic smokers or who live with chronic smokers.
- People who work with substances that can affect lungs such as, chemical fumes, dust, etc.
- Travellers who are travelling to places which have high levels of pollution.
What are the causes of bronchitis?
The causes of acute bronchitis include:
- viruses, that cause colds and flu.
- exposure to substances that irritate the lungs, such as tobacco smoke, dust, fumes, vapours, and air pollution.
- bacterial infection
The causes of chronic bronchitis include:
- chronic smoking
- long-term exposure to air pollution, dust and fumes
- repeated irritation and damage to the lung and airway tissue caused by smoking or pollution.
What are the symptoms of bronchitis? How is bronchitis diagnosed?
The symptoms of bronchitis include:
- a persistent cough with mucus
- body aches
- chest tightening and discomfort
- a sore throat
- blocked nose and sinuses
A general practitioner can easily diagnose the symptoms of bronchitis. He will ask about the symptoms and in particular the cough and also about your medical history, and if you have recently suffered from a cold or flu. He will also ask if you have other health conditions and if you smoke, or if you have recently been exposed to substances such as dust, fumes, vapours, or air pollution.
He will perform a quick medical exam with a stethoscope to listen for any abnormal sounds in the lungs.
Based on the severity of your condition the doctor may recommend:
- X-ray of the chest: to determine if you are suffering from pneumonia
- Sputum test: if you have any other illnesses such as whooping cough
- Pulmonary function test: to check the condition of your lungs and also see if you have any other medical condition such as asthma.
What are the complications of bronchitis?
Some complications of bronchitis include:
- respiratory failure
- cor pulmonale (alteration in the structure of the right ventricle in the heart)
- chronic advancement of the disease
What is the treatment for bronchitis?
If the bronchitis is due to bacteria the doctor will prescribe antibiotics. For viral bronchitis, he may prescribe a cough suppressant and pain reliever. You will also be asked to take plenty of fluids and be on bed rest.
In cases of acute bronchitis, you may need inhalers and other forms of treatment. Make sure that you tell the doctor all your pre-existing medical conditions (that is if you have any) so that the doctor can prescribe medicines which do not clash with each other.
Questions answered by trusted doctors
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