Bronchitis: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment

Overview of bronchitis

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from your lungs. Bronchitis is characterized by coughing, chest tightness, as well as shortness of breath. 

There are two different types of bronchitis.

Acute bronchitis and 

Chronic bronchitis 

Symptoms of bronchitis

Symptoms of acute bronchitis

Acute bronchitis is characterized by a cough that is dry and hacking at first. After a couple of days, the cough may produce mucus. At times the patient may also suffer from fever with chills, muscle aches, nasal congestion, and sore throat. This cough may last for more than two weeks. This coughing at times is also accompanied by wheezing and shortness of breath and some times may injure the chest walls.

Symptoms chronic bronchitis

On the other hand, chronic bronchitis is characterized by a productive cough that lasts for three months or more per year for at least two years. The other symptoms of chronic bronchitis include shortness of breath, exertion, wheezing, and chest tightness. Moreover, a person suffering from chronic bronchitis is often susceptible to bacterial infections like pneumonia.

Causes of bronchitis

Causes of acute bronchitis 

Acute bronchitis is characterized by severe cough with or without the production of sputum/mucus. A virus usually causes this type of bronchitis. Generally, a person suffering from upper respiratory tract infections like cold or flu develops acute bronchitis. Bacteria rarely cause acute bronchitis. 

Causes of chronic bronchitis 

On the other hand, chronic bronchitis is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease caused by recurrent injury to the airways. This injury is usually caused by inhaled irritants from cigarette smoking, polluted air, or occupational exposure to irritants.

Diagnosis of bronchitis

Diagnosis of acute bronchitis

In the case of acute bronchitis, the symptoms explained above are indicative enough for diagnosis. However, at times the doctor may take a chest X-ray to make sure that it is not a case of pneumonia or other lung problems. 

Diagnosis of chronic bronchitis

The diagnosis of chronic bronchitis involves a complete evaluation of the patient’s medical history and physical condition. This determines the type and severity of chronic bronchitis and, thereby, the course of treatment. 

However, a few diagnostic tests like lung function tests, such as a spirometry test is conducted to measure the intake and output of air to and from the lungs. This test is done for diagnostic purposes and regularly to monitor the effectiveness of the treatment.

A chest X-ray and CT scan are done to rule out conditions like pneumonia and congestive heart failure.  

The diagnosis also involves arterial blood gas test that evaluates parameters related to an effective breathing. For example, arterial blood gas provides information related to the level of oxygen in the blood. Apart from these, sputum is also tested to check for any bacterial infection in the lungs. 

Treatment of bronchitis

Treatment for acute bronchitis

A viral infection causes almost 90% of acute bronchitis cases. As antibiotics do not cure viral infections, it is not advised for acute bronchitis. Instead, only the medications that may relieve the discomfort arising from the symptoms are prescribed. 

The patient is advised: 

  • To take Acetaminophen (Feverall, Panadol and Tylenol), Aspirin, or Ibuprofen (Motrin, Nuprin, and Advil) for his fever and muscle aches.
  • A cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier reduces bronchial irritation.
  • An over-the-counter cough suppressant like Guaifenesin (Robitussin, Breonesin, and Mucinex) provides comfort from coughing. 

The patient is also advised to increase his fluid intake as fever causes the body to lose fluid faster. 

However, one should consult the doctor immediately if you observe the following symptoms.

  • Severe coughing that interferes with rest or sleep
  • Wheezing that does not respond to an inhaler with albuterol
  • Continuous fever beyond four to five days
  • The production of blood, 
  • Rust-colored sputum
  • An increased amount of green phlegm

The doctors, in such cases, usually prescribe medications like bronchodilators that are used to treat asthma. These medications are often given through inhalers or nebulizer machines.

Treatment for chronic bronchitis

On the other hand, the treatment of chronic bronchitis starts by reducing the exposure to the irritants responsible for it. After a patient is diagnosed with chronic bronchitis, the physician would decide what medication is best for the patient. He may advise the patient to take short-acting or long-acting bronchodilators. Bronchodilators are available as inhalers and pills. At times Corticosteroids are also be prescribed for inhalation. 

Other therapies

Moderate to severe chronic bronchitis may also be treated with oxygen therapy. During this therapy, supplemental oxygen is given to the patient through small nasal prongs or a mask to improve the blood’s reduced level of oxygen. Another form of treatment of chronic bronchitis is pulmonary rehabilitation. This involves a lifestyle management program along with medically supervised exercise programs, disease management training, and diet and psychological counseling to improve the overall quality of health. 

Read more Home remedies for bronchitis

Precautions for bronchitis

A person should take proper preventive measures to avoid bronchitis in the first place. Hands should be washed often during cold and flu season to prevent the spread of many germs that cause the condition. Avoid smoking.

Even avoid passive smoking. This is because even second-hand smoking makes a person more susceptible to viral infections by increasing airway congestion. 

Last but not least, one should take plenty of rest and the right nutrition to fight off any illness.