Bronchial tubes are organs that carry oxygen and carbon dioxide to and fro from your lungs and when there is any inflammation or swelling in the lining of these tubes, it causes bronchitis. Bronchitis develops due to many causes ranging from common cold to acute respiratory infection. The tiny airway passage of the lungs gets blocked due to bronchitis leading to breathing problems.
In case if it becomes chronic (serious) it can cause serious irritation of the lining of these tubes and mainly this condition happens due to repeated smoking. Acute bronchitis does not need any treatment but chronic type needs medical treatment. Bronchitis can be fully cured with corticosteroid medications and by using bronchodilators.
There are 2 types of bronchitis namely acute and chronic bronchitis :
Acute bronchitis is not much serious one which may last for few days to couple of weeks. Often there is no need to take medication and it is enough if you use humidifiers to clear the block in the airway of lungs.
Chronic bronchitis may last for months or even years and this can lead to asthma or other serious lung problems. You should take regular treatment to overcome the symptoms of chronic bronchitis.
Some of the common signs of bronchitis are repeated cough, mucus (phlegm) secretion, discomfort in chest and mild fever. It can cause difficulty in breathing and fatigue. Nagging cough is the worst symptom of bronchitis which can be there for several weeks even after the airway becomes clear. You need to see your doctor if the cough lasts for more than 2 weeks causing disturbance in sleeping and if you have fever and yellowish mucus discharge often. For some people it may cause wheezing making them unable to breathe normally.
Bronchitis is caused by the same virus that causes common cold. Viral infection is the most common reason for developing bronchitis. For some people it can be caused by bacterial infection and allergies. Bronchitis is often developed after common cold or flu. Children who have developed whooping cough, diphtheria or any serious infection have increased chance for getting bronchitis.
Cigarette smoke exposure (both active and passive) is another major cause for bronchitis. Exposure to smoke of any kind and environmental allergy like dust (from cement, asbestos, fumes, and organic dust) can also cause bronchitis. Severe infection of the airways can lead to chronic bronchitis thus making it serious disorder.
Who are at risk?
People who are exposed to cigar smoke are at high risk of developing bronchitis (acute or chronic). Individuals with low immunity level and those affected with common cold or any other illness often may develop bronchitis. Young children and older adults are weak in immunity are at high risk of developing bronchitis. If your nature of job warrants you to work in heavy polluted area (cement dust, grain dust or chemicals) you are likely to develop chronic bronchitis. In severe cases, chronic bronchitis may lead to asthma, tuberculosis, cystic fibrosis, and sinusitis. Lung diseases and heart problem can develop due to chronic bronchitis.
Smokers (habitual) often come up with acute bronchitis initially which may gradually develop into chronic problem. Every time you inhale smoke, hair like structures present in your lungs get affected. Gradually it may not be able to work properly leading to inflammation of airways. The mucus will get clogged in the airway making it difficult to breathe. In some cases it can permanently damage the airways of the lungs leading to COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
Many times, doctors get confused with the symptoms of common cold with bronchitis. There is possibility that your doctor may recommend taking sputum culture and chest X-ray to confirm the diagnoses. Chest X-ray can give clear idea about the condition of your lungs and indicate if you have developed pneumonia or not. Presence of virus/bacteria on the sputum indicates bronchitis infection. In rare cases (for smokers) pulmonary function test will be done using spirometer to determine the functional capacity of your lungs.
For acute bronchitis medical treatment is not required. You need to take plenty of rest and use humidifiers. Drink plenty of fluids (preferably lukewarm water, soup etc.) to clear the airways. Over the counter medications can give relief from chest discomfort and irritant cough. For chronic bronchitis your doctor may prescribe inhaler apart from giving medications. Bacterial infection is treated with antibiotics and viral infection with antiviral drugs. For chain smokers with chronic bronchitis the doctor may prescribe antibiotics to prevent the risk of getting serious infection on the lungs.
For people with wheezing and breathlessness inhalers are the best option. Medications are prescribed to control the inflammation of the lungs and narrow airways. It is better not to use cough suppressing agents when you have bronchitis since mucus may not come out by taking cough medication. Cough suppressants can be used if you have dry cough. Cough expectorants are given for productive cough to help the mucus to clear off the airways.
Corticosteroid medications like Medrol, Beclazone or Flixotide are prescribed for preventing acute exacerbations due to chronic bronchitis. Often a combination of inhalers and steroid drugs are given for treating chronic problem. Breathing exercises are given by therapist for helping the person to breathe easily.
Lifestyle Changes :
Drink plenty of fluids to keep hydrated. Breathe in warm air to get relief from inflammation of airways and to clear off the blocked mucus. Bronchodilators like ventolin can be used for opening the obstructed airways of the lungs. You need to cover your mouth while sneezing/coughing. Children and adults should thoroughly wash their hands before and after eating.
Avoid sending your child to daycare centers or school. Give Paracetomol for managing fever and fatigue. Quit smoking before your cough turns into chronic problem like pneumonia or COPD. In case you are exposed to passive smoking then you can cover the face with mask. Using humidifiers and inhaling moist air can give relief from irritant cough and helps in loosening the mucus that has clogged inside.
Avoid smoking in any form since it is the root cause for many lung disorders. Get vaccinated against influenza and flu which prevents you from getting bronchitis. Use hand sanitizers or wash your hands properly with soap solution to reduce the risk of getting viral infection.