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Bronchitis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

What is bronchitis?

An inflammation of the airways (bronchial tubes) is known as bronchitis.  Bronchitis leads to a cough, often with mucus production, wheezing, and chest tightness. When they exert for any work, they can experience shortness of breath.

Bronchitis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

Bronchitis can be either acute or chronic in nature. Acute bronchitis occurs very rapidly and can lead to symptoms that may be severe and it lasts only for few weeks. Viruses mainly cause acute bronchitis.

Chronic bronchitis causes the bronchial tubes to be irritated, inflamed and generates a lot of mucus gradually. Smoking is usually responsible for chronic bronchitis.

The prevalence of chronic bronchitis in smokers in India has been reported to be about 32% in males and 33-53% in females.

Causes and risk factors

Causes

Influenza viruses that cause flu and colds are responsible for acute bronchitis. Cigarette smoking commonly causes chronic bronchitis and dust, air pollution or harmful gases can also cause it.

Risk Factors

Following are some of the risk factors for bronchitis

  • Contact with other people having bronchitis
  • Passive exposure to smoke, chemicals, dust, or air pollution
  • A weak immune system or intake of drugs that weaken the immune system

Symptoms and signs

The symptoms of acute or chronic bronchitis can include:

  • Cough
  • Mucus production in lungs
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest discomfort
  • Wheezing
  • Headache

Acute bronchitis lasts for few weeks with a troubling cough. Chronic bronchitis is characterised by a productive cough that lasts for three months with bouts of reoccurrences for two years.

Often individuals with repeated bronchitis bouts may be suffering from asthma.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will scrutinise the medical history and may ask questions relating to past allergies and health concerns. The doctor may use a stethoscope to check for signs of lung congestion and wheezing during the physical examination. Other tests may include:

  • Chest x-rays to rule out pneumonia.
  • Spirometry test may be done to rule out asthma.
  • Sputum test may be recommended to check for other diseases.

Treatment and prevention

Treatment

Often majority of bronchitis cases resolve within two weeks without treatment. Your doctor may prescribe certain medications which can include medications for managing cough, allergies or asthma. Bronchitis usually is viral in nature so antibiotics are not prescribed. However, if bacterial infection is suspected, antibiotics may be recommended.

Prevention

The risk of bronchitis may be lowered with:

  • Washing hands to prevent germs from spreading
  • Stopping smoking and avoiding exposure to dust, cigarette and other smokes.

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Complications

Solitary episodes of bronchitis are not a matter of concern but they may progress into pneumonia in few individuals.  Recurrent bronchitis bouts can point to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease’s development.

Next steps

Visit your doctor if you notice the cough is:

  • Accompanied by fever
  • Lasting for three weeks or more
  • Not allowing you to sleep
  • Associated with blood-tinged mucus
  • Occurring with shortness of breath or wheezing

Red Flags

Immediate medical attention must be sought if you have bronchitis with fever and produce a bloody, green, yellow or brown coloured phlegm which might be a sign of pneumonia.

Consult a top Pulmonologist

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References

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  • Bronchitis (Chest cold). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed 1 Mar. 16. http://www.cdc.gov/getsmart/community/for-patients/common-illnesses/bronchitis.html.
  • Bronchitis. Kids Health. Accessed 1 Mar. 16. http://kidshealth.org/en/teens/bronchitis.html#
  • Bronchitis. NHS-UK. Accessed 1 Mar. 16. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Bronchitis/Pages/Introduction.aspx
  • Textbook of Pulmonary medicine. Jayapee Brothers Medical Publishers. New Delhi. Second Edition. 2010. Vol (1): Pg 1075
  • What is bronchitis? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Accessed 1 Mar. 16. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/brnchi.

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