Though millions of people are diagnosed with bronchitis each year, there are still many individuals who don’t understand this condition. In many cases, patients mistake their symptoms for a bad cold or the flu, which can lead to incorrect self-diagnosis and inadvertently prolonging the condition. Read this article to learn about bronchitis and tips for spotting its symptoms.
Bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, which carry air between the trachea and the lungs. The lining in the bronchial tubes is important because it produces mucus, which covers and protects the respiratory system and its associated organs. Although bronchitis may develop from a cold or a respiratory infection, it can also be linked to other factors, including lifestyle habits like smoking.
The two main types of bronchitis are acute and chronic bronchitis. Typically, acute bronchitis develops after a person has a respiratory infection or a bad cold. This condition is easy to treat and is only temporary.
Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, is a much more serious and long-term condition. It often occurs in response to environmental factors like exposure to allergens or from lifestyle habits like smoking. Over time, chronic bronchitis can cause serious damage to the lungs.
It’s important to note that chronic bronchitis is actually one type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Like the other type of COPD – emphysema – chronic bronchitis can be fatal. According to the American Lung Association, COPD is the third leading cause of death in the U.S.
The first symptom of either type of bronchitis is typically a dry cough. However, other symptoms eventually accompany this cough to allow for a diagnosis of acute bronchitis:
- Shortness of breath
- Tight feeling in the chest
- Wheezing or whistling sound when breathing
- Coughing up thick yellow or greenish mucus
- Mild fever
Most of the symptoms for acute bronchitis are the same for those with chronic bronchitis, with three exceptions.
- First, people with chronic bronchitis generally don’t experience a fever or chills.
- Secondly, these symptoms persist for months or years rather than a matter of days, as is the case with acute bronchitis.
- Finally, those with chronic bronchitis are more likely to experience episodes or periods where their symptoms worsen.
Causes And Risk Factors
Acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis generally stem from different causes and risk factors. Acute bronchitis is typically triggered by a virus, often the same virus that causes the flu or a cold. Your risk for acute bronchitis is increased if your immune system has already been weakened by a cold, the flu, an infection or some other illness. Those who smoke or live with a smoker also have an increased risk of developing this condition.
With chronic bronchitis, the causes are typically environmental, such as air pollution, allergens, toxic gases or dust. Smoking cigarettes continues to be the most common cause of chronic bronchitis. However, the risk of chronic bronchitis also increases for those non-smokers who are exposed to smoke regularly, such as those who live with a smoker. An additional risk factor is being exposed to airway irritants either at home or at work. Those irritants include grains, textiles and chemical fumes.
The number one way to prevent bronchitis is to avoid cigarette smoke, whether that means quitting smoking or avoiding being around cigarette smoke often. You can also make lifestyle changes that limit your exposure to certain triggers of chronic bronchitis. This could include moving to a different location, changing jobs or wearing a mask during certain activities where you are exposed.
Since acute bronchitis is often caused by a virus, you can avoid developing this condition by following certain hygiene rules closely, such as washing your hands frequently and utilizing hand sanitizers. Additionally, you can get the flu vaccine each year to increase your protection against a virus.
(For help on how to quit smoking, read Tips On How To Quit Smoking As Soon As Possible.)
The treatment for acute bronchitis is extremely simple since it usually goes away on its own within a week. You won’t need antibiotics since bronchitis usually stems from a virus, not bacteria. To increase the rate at which you recover from acute bronchitis, take the following steps:
- Get lots of rest
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Take over-the-counter pain medications if you have a fever
- Use a humidifier or steam in the bathroom
- Do not smoke and avoid exposure to cigarette smoke
Unfortunately, there is no cure for chronic bronchitis, and any damage to your lungs as a result of the condition cannot be repaired. People with chronic bronchitis are strongly encouraged to stop smoking and limit their exposure to cigarette smoke in order to help reduce their symptoms. Additionally, some individuals with this condition can engage in pulmonary rehabilitation, which is a breathing exercise program designed to help those with chronic bronchitis breathe more easily.
(To learn more about pulmonary rehabilitation, see Pulmonary Rehabilitation For COPD And Chronic Lung Conditions.)