Bronchitis is the term used to describe an infection of the lungs’ main airways – the bronchi – that causes an inflammation and/or irritation. There are two types of bronchitis – acute (short term) and chronic (ongoing) – each one having its own causes and symptoms. This condition is called chronic when a mucus cough persists for the majority of a month’s days, during a minimum of three months, two years in a row. The acute version only lasts somewhere between two and three weeks, and it is noticeable by an inflammation of the air passages that comes on quickly.


Chronic Bronchitis Overview & Facts

The first fact that comes up about chronic bronchitis is that over an astonishing number of 10 million Americans have been diagnosed with this condition in 2011 alone, and somewhere around 70 percent of those 10 million are people who have exceeded the age of 40.

Although both men and women can face chronic bronchitis in their lifetime, studies have shown that women have it at double the rate of men. The same 2011 research shows that during that year somewhere around 6.8 million women have been confronted with chronic bronchitis, and only 3.3 men.

Patients with chronic bronchitis have higher chances of developing emphysema, especially those over the age of 45. Emphysema incidents have started to decline in men, but risen in women.

The progressive disease COPD – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – caused by a combination between emphysema and chronic bronchitis affects both men and someone, and from 12 to 24 million people have it in the United States alone, half of them being undiagnosed yet. COPD has no known cure.


Symptoms of Bronchitis

For both chronic and acute bronchitis the symptoms and signs can be similar. Usually, patients who have this condition experience the following:

  • Cough – when the condition is chronic, the cough reaches a severe level, being productive and having recurring bouts.
  • Discomfort of the chest area
  • Shortness of breath
  • Occasional chills or fevers
  • A state of constant fatigue
  • Mucus (sputum) production – the mucus can either be clear, yellow-gray, green or white in color, and sometimes blood streaks might be present.
  • Muscle and back aches
  • Sore throat
  • Sneezing

Although these are the typical sings patients can notice, there are a few others also known as emergency symptoms, which should determine an immediate doctor consultation.

  • A fever that is higher than 100.4°F (38°C)
  • Difficulties breathing
  • A sudden, unexplained weight loss
  • Chest pain

In an advanced stage of chronic bronchitis, due to lack of oxygen, the lips and skin can turn into a bluish color. A decrease in the oxygen level can also trigger an ankle and leg swelling, as well as the appearance of peripheral edema. The symptoms can vary in frequency and severity as the chronic bronchitis develops even further, and is left untreated. Cough can momentarily disappear, being followed by period with even more intense coughing. Patients can also face extreme episodes if dealing with factors such as a respiratory track infections, an infection anywhere else in the body, or heart conditions.


Lungs with bronchitis


Medical Diagnosis of Chronic Bronchitis

Because for some it may be difficult to establish if chronic bronchitis is in fact a problem in their case, seeking medical attention might be necessary. There are several test options used by medical specialist to make an accurate diagnosis.

  • The usage of x-rays to eliminate the presumption of other medical conditions that can also trigger sever coughing, such as pneumonia
  • The analyzing and testing of  sputum (the mucus that is being eliminating from the patient’s lungs). This method can establish the presence of bacteria, allowing the specialist to determine the causes of the patient’s symptoms
  • A pulmonary function test – Trough this technique, specialists are able to evaluate the proper functioning of the lungs. Any type of emphysema or asthma sign can be easily noticed.
  • CT scan – seeing in more detail the patient’s lungs and other organs from various angles




Bronchitis Treatment & Care

Acute bronchitis

Acute bronchitis can usually clear up by itself after a few weeks, rest and drinking of liquids being the most important tips to follow. However, in order for the outcomes of the condition to not become more serious, and for the patients to ameliorate the symptoms, patients can take a few steps

  • Home care tips
  • The administration of OTC, nonsteroidal anti inflammatory drugs, which have the role of soothing a sore throat
  • Placing a humidifier in the house, which will increase air moisture, make breathing easier, and allow the loosening of mucus
  • Constant liquid drinking
  • Using ginger as a natural anti inflammatory
  • Honey consumption to soothe coughing
  • Antibiotic treatments

Laugh patients might be tempted to go on an antibiotic, usually, these types of drugs are not recommended for those with acute bronchitis. Specialists might recommend and prescribe antibiotics to acute bronchitis patients only when there is a high chance of this medical problem developing into pneumonia.

Chronic bronchitis

While acute bronchitis can be treated at home in most situations, as long as a few tips are being followed, when it comes to the chronic condition, the treatment options become a bit more complicated. There are a few essential things patients need to do in order to prevent this condition from aggravating or triggering more severe repercussions. And even if there is no exact cure for the disease, it can be managed through a few lifestyle changes and exact medical treatment.

  • The usage of a bronchodilator – a medicine type that has the role of opening the lungs’ airways, facilitating an ease of breathing. This substance needs to be breathed in through a device that can pump the medicine into the lungs, usually an inhaler. To ensure the efficiency of the bronchodilator, patients need to request the assistance and advice of a qualified specialist
  • Theophylline – a type of oral medication that functions as a muscle relaxer, allowing the lungs’ airways to open more. The administration of this medication can relive breathing difficulties, which is a common problem for chronic bronchitis sufferers.
  • Steroid are also something doctors resort to, when the two first options don’t enable the improvement of the symptoms. There are both pill and inhaler options for steroids administration.
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation – this medical program is designed for patients to improve their breathing, and usually consists of learning of breathing strategies, nutritional counseling and exercises. Pulmonary rehabilitation program are usually conducted at hospitals.
  • Home oxygen administration might be necessary in severe cases
  • Hospitalization when treatment options seem to not provide results

Lifestyle remedies

Patient with chronic bronchitis are also required to make a few lifestyle changes, in order to ameliorate the symptoms they are experiencing.

  • Physical activity – exercising at least twice or three times a week from 30 minutes can help patients strengthen the muscles that ameliorate breathing. With the advice of a specialist, chronic bronchitis sufferers can follow a strict workout program that can influence positively their recovery process.
  • Quitting smoking
  • The installation of a humidifier
  • Pursed-lip breathing – technique that helps shortness of breath, by providing relief.


Bronchitis treatment and care


What Causes bronchitis?

Acute bronchitis

Acute bronchitis can be normally triggered by the same viruses that cause the common flue or cold. Viral infections have been linked to even up to 95 percent of acute bronchitis cases, but bacterial infections are also another known cause. Those who are suffering from asthma are also more likely to deal with an acute bronchitis case in their lifetime.

Chronic bronchitis

Although occurring mostly during colder year period, being associated with an upper respiratory infection, chronic bronchitis can appear regardless of season. There are several factor that influence the development of this condition

  • Smoking has been concluded to be the number one cause in the appearance of this type of bronchitis, this being the reason why smokers deal with a higher risk of developing this disease in their lifetime.
  • Exposure and inhalation of workplace or pollution irritants, as well as second hand smoke
  • Inhaling chemical fumes can trigger or worsen bronchitis symptoms
  • Influenza A and B, as well as other viruses can be another common cause
  • Long infections
  • A weaken immune system, due to either old age or an unhealthy and unbalanced lifestyle prevent patient to fight against a potential chronic bronchitis.


Risk factors

  • Cigarette smoking – Those who are either smokers themselves or are exposed on the regular to cigarettes smoker have higher chances of being confront with either chronic or acute bronchitis. Patients who have already been diagnose with this condition need to give up smoking immediately
  • Working in an environment with high irritants exposure – Textile, grains, or other lung irritants of this kind can trigger the development or aggravation of bronchitis. People who are working in environments that involves chemical fumes are more prone to being diagnosed with this medical problem
  • Lack of vaccination
  • A weaken immune system
  • Low resistance – suffering from another medical condition or illness that makes the patient more vulnerable to infections
  • Gastric reflux
  • 50 + age


Although bronchitis can be kept under control with the right medical treatment, there are a few complications that might appear. One of the most frequently met severe repercussion is pneumonia. If the infection manages to spread further into the lungs, the lungs’ air sacs fill with fluid and pneumonia symptoms start to appear. Studies have shown that at lease at 1 in 10 cases of bronchitis, pneumonia appears. Another severe condition linked to bronchitis is COPD, which can in fact be life-threatening if it is not noticed and handled on time.


Bronchitis Prevention

There are a few things people can do in order to prevent dealing with bronchitis, whether it is chronic or acute. These are the tips that should be followed by potential patients at all times

  • Avoiding or reducing smoking – because those who have a smoking habit are more exposed to develop this condition, a reduction in this department is needed. Smoke increases the risk of bronchitis development significantly. Children in particular should never be exposed to secondhand smoke.
  • Vaccination – a simple flu vaccine can prevent the appearance of this condition, which is often caused by the influenza flu virus.
  • Wearing protection is the workplace is necessary, when lung irritants are involved
  • Frequent hand washing and hand sanitization using – reducing the risks of viral infections
  • Avoiding a long exposure to air pollution, such as the one from heavy traffic, can also have a positive role in bronchitis prevention
  • Not getting in contact with those who have the flu or a cold.


Is Bronchitis Contagious?

Many patient are not sure if this condition is a contagious one or not. The acute version of this illness icon be contagious, because it is in fact caused by a short term infection, and infections can usually be easily transmitted from one person to another. Mucus droplets are the ones that carry the bacteria and spread it around through either a simple caught, a sneeze, or even when talking too close to someone. On the other hand, the chronic one cannot be transmitted that easily, mainly because the disease is not triggered by a standard infection, but by a long term inflammation, and inflammations are unable to spread from person to person. Only if the cause of the bronchitis is known to be viral or bacterial, it can be transmitted to someone else.


Pediatric bronchitis

Adults over the age of 45 are usually the ones who confront themselves with this type of medical condition most, but children can sometimes be susceptible to it as well. Because the immune system of a child might not be as strong as the one of an adult, even if the bronchitis is an acute and not chronic one, seeking medical attention is still recommended, to prevent severe complications from appearing. A specialist will be able to prescribe antipyretics and analgesics suitable for pediatric use, as well as other treatment options, after a thorough physical examination

Although chronic bronchitis is known for being a long term medical condition, which might be less likely to go away entirely, patients do have the possibility to opt for effective treatment options, which allows them to successfully cope with this problem.

Last updated on March 2nd, 2018

Chris Riley

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