Caused by Viruses, Bacteria, and Smoking
Bronchitis is a respiratory disease that comes in two forms, acute and chronic. Bronchitis is characterized by the inflammation of the mucous membranes that line the bronchial passages in the lungs. Acute bronchitis lasts less than six weeks, while the chronic version recurs frequently for more than a couple of years. Smoking can cause and aggravate bronchitis, and in some instances lead to a much more serious condition called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD. Since most cases of bronchitis are viral in origin, they cannot be treated with antibiotics and only the symptoms can be addressed while you wait for the ailment to clear up.
The trachea and large and small bronchi, or airways, in your lungs become inflamed from infection or other causes when you have bronchitis. These tissues that line the lungs have cilia, or tiny hairs, that trap and eliminate dust and other pollutants. Once they have stopped working the air passages can be clogged and irritated. The mucous linings of these airways get irritated and swell, and the cells that compose the lining can leak fluids. Coughing works to clear these secretions from your lungs, and the coughing that accompanies bronchitis can often be severe. Children and adults alike can get bronchitis, which occurs most often during cold and flu season each winter. Acute bronchitis is caused by viruses ninety percent of the time and by bacteria the other ten. Viruses such as influenza A and B are known to be the culprit, and what is known as “walking pneumonia” is actually bronchitis that is the work of bacteria.
Chronic bronchitis can develop from repeated bouts of acute bronchitis, or it can come to fruition from constant exposure to pollution and exposure to dust. But far and away the leading cause of chronic bronchitis is smoking for a length of time, as the smoke irritates bronchial tubes and they respond by creating excess mucous. Smoking accounts for over eighty percent of the cases of chronic bronchitis in this country. Acute bronchitis will often come with an upper respiratory infection like a cold or sinus infection. Fever, sore throats, muscle aches, and chills can go hand in hand with these circumstances, but the obvious bronchitis symptom is the coughing, which can produce volumes of phlegm or be of the dry variety. Lots of phlegm can be an indicator of a lower respiratory tract infection in the lungs. The coughing can be so harsh and relentless that you can develop sore muscles in your chest and abdomen, and it can be two weeks before you rid yourself of it. You may be also short of breath and have a tendency to wheeze, as your airways are so inflamed that they narrow significantly.
When the coughing makes it impossible to rest or to sleep, you may need to see a doctor. If it becomes difficult to breath, then a trip to the emergency room may be necessary. A stethoscope will let your doctor know if you have bronchitis as the unmistakable rattling sound in the lungs will give it away. If you are a sufferer of chronic bronchitis, X-rays will be ordered along with tests to demonstrate your lung capacity to determine the extent of the damage in that region. Since most of the instances are fueled by viruses, only the symptoms can be addressed until the condition clears up, usually in about ten days to a couple of weeks. Tylenol, aspirin, and ibuprofen can deal with the fever and aches and pains, remembering to never give children aspirin as it has been linked to the dangerous Reyes syndrome. Drink plenty of fluids to offset the potential dehydration caused by fever. If you are well hydrated, it will be easier to cough up the now thinner lung secretions. A vaporizer or humidifier can lessen bronchial irritation from dry air, and over-the-counter cough suppressants like Pertussin and Robitussin can alleviate the need to constantly cough. However, coughing has its benefits, as it slowly rids your system of extra mucus when you bring up phlegm.
When you have chronic bronchitis, you will be advised against cough suppressants so as to get rid of phlegm. You should get a flu shot, as you will now be even more vulnerable to infections. If your bronchitis has deteriorated into COPD, you may be given steroids to reduce inflammation of your airways and drugs to dilate restricted airways. Chronic bronchitis with COPD may require you to be on oxygen, as your body is no longer efficiently able to transfer oxygen from the lungs into the bloodstream. Nothing is more important with chronic bronchitis than quitting smoking if it is the cause, as studies show that this can even reduce the symptoms in advanced cases of COPD and enhance life expectancy. Bronchitis is contagious, spread by direct or indirect contact. Second-hand smoke can cause bronchitis in the unwitting children exposed to it, so be aware that your lungs are not the only ones at risk when you smoke.