Bronchitis is a respiratory condition that results from the bronchi’s inflammation and infection, which are the primary airways in the lungs. Bronchitis can be acute or chronic, depending on the length of the inflammation of the bronchi.
This article examines the types of bronchitis, symptoms, causes, and available treatment options for the condition.
Bronchitis results when the lungs’ bronchi (main airways) become infected, irritated, and inflamed. The bronchi split off to either side of the trachea leading to smaller airways in the lungs (the bronchioles). The walls of the bronchi secrete mucus, which traps dust and other particles that can cause irritation.
Bronchitis occurs when an infection leads to the bronchi’s irritation and inflammation, which results in the production of more mucus than necessary. The body tries to move this excess mucus through coughing. Bronchitis can be either acute or chronic.
Acute bronchitis is a short-term inflammation of the main airways of the lungs. The major symptom of this infection is coughing with the occasional production of sputum. Other symptoms may be noticed, including discomfort in the chest, fever, and shortness of breath. Fever in this infection is usually mild. Acute bronchitis usually lasts only for a few days, although the cough may last several weeks after the infection has cleared. The cause of acute bronchitis is 90% viral, with only a few cases being bacterial.
Chronic bronchitis usually lasts for two or three months for a minimum of two years. Chronic bronchitis was formerly used to define chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Chronic bronchitis results in excess mucus and mucin production due to long-term irritation of the mucous glands. Mucins increase the thickness of mucus and have been found to increase the severity of the infection. The over secretion of mucus can block the airways, thereby leading to a decline in the lungs’ functioning and, eventually, COPD.
Symptoms of bronchitis
The most common symptom of bronchitis is a cough, usually accompanied by sputum. The patient may also experience sore throat, runny, or blocked nose due to overproduction of mucus, aches and pains, tiredness, and headache. Other symptoms may stop for several weeks while the cough persists. The cough is also known as a chest cold. Shortness of breath may also be experienced, although this is usually a symptom of chronic bronchitis.
Causes of bronchitis
1. Viral and bacterial infections
Bronchitis is most often caused by a virus, although bacteria can also cause it. These viruses are airborne and can be spread when a person coughs or sneezes. The same viruses that cause the common cold and flu are also responsible for most cases of bronchitis. The few bacterial cases are caused by bacteria like Mycoplasma pneumoniae and Bordetella pertussis.
2. Exposure to hazardous materials
Fumes and dust exposure in jobs like coal mining, textile manufacturing, livestock farming, grain handling, and metal moulding can damage the lungs and result in bronchitis. This kind of bronchitis, known as occupational bronchitis, usually stops once one is no longer exposed to these hazards.
3. Inhalation of irritants
Smog, chemicals, and cigarette/tobacco smoke can lead to the development of bronchitis. Smokers are at a greater risk of developing bronchitis. Passive smokers (people who don’t smoke but stay around those who do) can also develop bronchitis quite quickly.
Treatment of bronchitis
Acute bronchitis usually clears up on its own within a few weeks. However, the symptoms can be eased by doing the following.
- Taking paracetamol and other pain relief tablets to pains and headaches.
- Taking in many non-alcoholic fluids to prevent dehydration and reduce the thickness of mucus in the lungs.
- Stopping smoking. Smoking can lead to a lot of bronchitis complications and other long related diseases.
- Getting a lot of rest.
Chronic bronchitis has no cure. However, it can be managed by leading a healthy lifestyle (good diet and regular exercise) and avoiding smoking.
- There are medicines called bronchodilators that help free up the airways, and they exist as inhalers and tablets.
- Mucolytic medicines which reduce the thickness of mucus can also be taken.
You should note the following:
- Cough medicines are not effective against bronchitis and should not be given to children under six unless a doctor prescribes it.
- Antibiotics are also largely ineffective against bronchitis except in the rare case that bacteria cause bronchitis or if there is a risk of developing pneumonia complications of bronchitis.
Complications of bronchitis
Bronchitis can deteriorate into pneumonia when it spreads into the lungs. About 5% of bronchitis cases lead to pneumonia. The elderly, smokers, people with weak immunity, and people with other health conditions are at a higher risk of developing pneumonia.
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