By Apollo 24|7, Published on- 29 December 2022 & Updated on -
Symptoms: Cough, production of mucus, shortness of breath, chest discomforts, sore throat, runny nose, fatigue
Causes: Influenza, air pollution, inhalation of toxic gases
Risk Factors: Individuals who smoke cigarettes, weak immunity, regular exposure to chemicals or irritants, frequent heartburn, exposure to pollution
Severity: Mild to severe
Which doctor to consult: General Physician or Pulmonologist
Bronchi are large tubes that are the central airways of the lungs. They connect to the trachea and allow the flow of air to the right and left lungs. Bronchitis is a condition wherein these airways are inflamed and irritated.
Mucus is produced in the walls of the bronchi to trap irritants and prevent them from getting into the lungs. But swelling and inflammation of the airways change the functioning of the respiratory system. The airways produce more mucus which is often let out through coughing. In bronchitis, coughing can also manifest as a dry cough without mucus.
Bronchitis can affect individuals differently, depending on their age. The two most common types of bronchitis are acute and chronic bronchitis.
Acute bronchitis is temporary. Home remedies or a routine of antibiotics can help clear up cases of acute bronchitis within a few weeks. Acute bronchitis is often called a chest cold since it develops after a cold or the flu.
Chronic bronchitis is a type of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). This condition fills your lungs with thick mucus, and individuals experience severe coughs for almost two or three months at a stretch every year. The situation worsens if it is not diagnosed and treated early.
Acute bronchitis caused by infectious viruses can be contagious. One of the most common reasons for bronchitis is it spreads from one infected individual to another. So, it is advised to isolate oneself if an individual is diagnosed with acute bronchitis. However, chronic bronchitis is not contagious.
Bronchitis can affect individuals of all ages, but it is more common among children under the age of five years. Individuals with asthma or other breathing problems are more at risk of bronchitis.
They can help to rule out other lung infections like pneumonia or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and identify underlying health disorders.
When to Consult a Doctor?
While mild symptoms of bronchitis can be treated at home, it is advised to visit a general practitioner for severe symptoms.
The symptoms of bronchitis are common to cold and flu. So, what starts as the flu is often diagnosed as bronchitis after monitoring the signs. The common symptoms of bronchitis include:
A persistent cough, which may be dry or produce mucus
Fever and chills
Fatigue or body pain
Slight breathing issues
Discomfort in chest
The symptoms may be severe or mild and vary for every patient. Some patients may experience one or a few symptoms, while others may experience all the signs.
In case the symptoms are mild, staying home and getting adequate rest is advised.
An individual should consider visiting a general physician when the symptoms get worse. For instance, patients with severe symptoms may cough up blood with mucus. Sometimes, the cough may last for several weeks, or the patient might have a high fever for days.
If the symptoms do not go away, visiting a doctor can help diagnose and establish the correct treatment for the disease. The GP will ask the patient about the patient's medical and family history.
The doctor may prescribe a few tests to diagnose the disease upon assessing the symptoms.
Chest X-ray: A chest x-ray alone is not enough to identify bronchitis, but this can detect inflammation in the bronchi. This can help confirm the infection and rule out pneumonia or other lung disorders.
Sputum Culture: In case of severe mucus production during coughing, the doctor may prescribe a sputum culture. This test can identify any signs of bacteria in the mucus and confirm the infection.
Spirometry: This test measures the capacity of the lungs. The doctor will ask the individual to blow air in and out to check how much air his/her lungs can hold. This helps the doctor understand if he/she has any additional breathing problems.
There are several treatment options for patients with bronchitis. Home care is effective for mild symptoms, but medication may be required if the symptoms persist.
Home Care: Home remedies are popular in treating bronchitis. While there are traditional treatments like sipping ginger tea or having turmeric milk to clear the congestion of the airways, experts suggest several home care methods that can cure the symptoms within a week.
Some popular advice for patients with bronchitis is given below:
Regular intake of steam can clear the mucus and promote better breathing
Using salt water to gargle, as it can provide relief to sore throat from coughing
Quiting smoking and avoiding passive smoking
Following a healthy and clean diet to boost immunity
Wearing a mask to cover mouth and nose while stepping out
Getting plenty of rest and sleep
Medication: If the bronchitis is caused by bacterial infection, the doctor will recommend a course of antibiotics. An individual should make sure to take the complete prescription of the antibiotics on time. Even if he/she starts feeling better mid-way through the prescribed dosage, it is advised to go through with the prescription to ensure the disease is eradicated completely.
Anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, naproxen, or aspirin are also prescribed to relieve symptoms. Bronchodilators are prescribed to help clear the airways of the lungs. These help move the mucus and improve airflow into the lungs. This is the most common treatment option when bronchitis symptoms become prominent.
Other medications like cough syrup or painkillers are often prescribed to relieve additional symptoms like cough, headache, fever and chills.
Surgical Treatment: Surgery may be the only option if the severe symptoms of bronchitis do not go away after treatment. Lung volume reduction surgery (LVRS) is a surgery that removes damaged lung tissues from the lung.
The surgery is often followed up by pulmonary rehabilitation. This therapy includes helping the patient practice some breathing exercises and exercise techniques.
Alternative Management: Severe symptoms of bronchitis require immediate medical care. While medication can cure the symptoms, alternative management is often followed to treat chronic bronchitis.
Individuals trust aromatherapy to relieve bronchitis symptoms. A humidifier with essential oils at night or during yoga helps to thin mucus and reduce cough. Popular essential oils such as cedarwood, lavender, mint, tea tree, and orange oil are often infused in humidifiers.
An aromatherapist can help an individual choose the correct oil depending on his/her symptoms and health condition.
Yoga therapy also helps individuals to regulate their breathing capacity and improve the functioning of the lungs. Individuals practice yoga under experts to manage breathing trouble and headaches and promote better sleep.
Risks & Complications if Left Untreated
Bronchitis, when not diagnosed, can complicate health issues and prove detrimental to the health of an individual’s respiratory system. The symptoms of bronchitis are similar to that of a common cold or flu. Therefore, individuals tend to think that the issue will resolve itself within a few days. However, if left untreated, bronchitis can also cause permanent damage to the lungs.
Usually, bronchitis caused by bacteria or viral infection turns into pneumonia. The infection in the airways spreads into the lungs, which results in pneumonia. Hence, pneumonia vaccine is often recommended for individuals with lung problems.
Since bronchitis is a condition that causes inflammation of the bronchi, it restricts the movement of oxygen in the airways. Over time, this gradual damage to the lungs extends into permanent damage, and an individual might experience decreased lung functioning.
These problems become more prominent if the individual has asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, or related health issues.
Another common complication of bronchitis is an ear infection or sinusitis. This is found more commonly among children.
The primary causes of bronchitis include:
Virus or bacteria
The most common cause of bronchitis is smoking cigarettes. Harmful irritants, chemical fumes, and pollution are also responsible for the diseases. However, this does not mean non-smokers do not get bronchitis. Smokers usually get chronic bronchitis.
Different viruses or bacteria usually cause acute bronchitis. The common viruses and bacteria include influenza (the flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), adenovirus, rhinovirus (the common cold), Bordetella pertussis, Mycoplasma pneumonia and Chlamydia pneumonia, respectively.
Genetics also play a role here. A family history of respiratory diseases or repeated bronchitis episodes indicates a high risk for an individual.
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1.What should you avoid if you have bronchitis?
Individuals with bronchitis should avoid dust, cigarette smoke, chemical fumes, alcohol, caffeine, and anything that irritates their lungs and gives them cold. Also, traveling to cold places or exposure to cold can worsen bronchitis. It's best to wear a mask if an individual cannot avoid pollution or the cold air.
2.Is bronchitis contagious?
In most cases, bronchitis is caused by different viruses. Sometimes, the same virus causes the flu and the common cold. In these cases, the disease remains contagious for a few weeks. The virus can quickly spread through coughing or sneezing.
3.Who is most affected by bronchitis?
Acute bronchitis affects individuals of all ages. But young children under the age of five are more susceptible to the disease. Individuals who get cold or fever easily often get bronchitis. Also, an individual can get the disease if he/she is around somebody with bronchitis.