Bronchitis is the inflammation or swelling of the bronchial tubes (the air passages between the nose and lungs). People with this condition have a reduced ability to breathe oxygen into their lungs and often experience heavy mucus or phlegm forming in their airways. Viruses, bacteria, and other irritant particles usually cause this kind of inflammation of the bronchial tubes.
An acute case of bronchitis is short-term and often follows a cold or viral infection. However, chronic bronchitis is long-term. This can be a result of environmental factors such as pollution, cigarette smoke, and other chemicals.
The Difference Between Acute and Chronic Bronchitis
Acute bronchitis is a short-term illness that commonly follows a cold or viral infection, such as the flu. It consists of a cough with mucus, chest discomfort or soreness, fever, and sometimes shortness of breath. Acute bronchitis usually lasts a few days or weeks.
Chronic bronchitis is a serious, ongoing illness characterized by a persistent, mucus-producing cough that lasts longer than three months. People with chronic bronchitis have varying degrees of breathing difficulties, and symptoms may be better or worse depending on the season.
What Causes Bronchitis?
Acute bronchitis is generally caused by viruses, typically those that also cause colds and flu. Additionally, it can be caused by bacterial infections and exposure to substances that irritate the lungs. Irritants may include:
- Tobacco smoke
- Air pollution.
Chronic bronchitis is caused by repeated irritation and damage to the lung and airway tissue. Smoking is the most common cause of the condition, with other causes including:
- Long-term exposure to air pollution
- Dust and fumes from the environment
- Repeated episodes of acute bronchitis.
Signs and Symptoms
Bronchitis shares many symptoms with the common cold, such as:
- Persistent cough
- Low fever and chills
- Chest tightening
- Sore throat
- Body aches
- Blocked nose and sinuses
Treatment and Prevention
While there is no cure for bronchitis, there are many ways to reduce the risk of developing the condition, as well as effective medicines to treat symptoms. Some cases of acute bronchitis may even go away without any direct treatment. Symptoms can be managed at home by resting, drinking fluids, and treating pains with acetaminophen and ibuprofen, although ibuprofen should not be used if you are asthmatic.
For cases of bronchitis that require medical treatment, some of the treatment options include:
- Antibiotics are effective for bacterial infections but not for viral infections. They may also prevent secondary infections.
- Cough medicine, although coughing should not be suppressed entirely. Coughing is a critical way to bring up mucus and remove irritants from the lungs.
- Bronchodilators, typically an inhaler, open the bronchial tubes and clear out mucus.
- Mucolytic thin or loosen mucus in the airways, making it easier to cough up sputum.
- Anti-inflammatory medicines and glucocorticoid steroids are for more persistent symptoms to help decrease chronic inflammation that may cause tissue damage.
- Oxygen therapy or Nebulizer treatment helps improve oxygen intake when breathing is difficult.
Diagnosis of bronchitis is made easy at MainStreet Family Care. If you or a family member are suffering from symptoms, we recommend registering online to be placed in the queue and reduce in-clinic wait times.
By completing our online registration, you will be able to wait from the comfort of your home or car until we text you that we are ready for you. You will have 30 minutes from the time we alert you to arrive at your nearest clinic and check in at the front desk.
MainStreet Family Care welcomes walk-ins, but please be aware that registering online reduces in-clinic waiting times.