Symptoms of bronchitis

What is Bronchitis?
Bronchitis is a disease characterized by the inflammation of the bronchial tubes resulting in cough and breathlessness. When the tubes get inflamed, it can cause the inner lining to thicken which leads to a contraction of the breathing passages. This is accompanied with secretions of mucus which can congest the airways. Coughing is the primary symptom exhibited by those suffering from bronchitis, as it helps to expel the mucus and facilitate easier breathing.

Bronchitis can be caused due to bacteria, virus or irritants. It can be acute or chronic.

Types and Symptoms of Bronchitis
Acute Bronchitis
This is a short term condition in which the bronchi of the lungs get inflamed. It is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection and often develops after a cold or a flu.  Irritants such as smoke, fumes and chemicals can also cause acute bronchitis. This disease is the most common in younger children but can affect people of all ages. It lasts for around 1-3 weeks after which symptoms subside gradually.

Cough is the most common symptom seen in people suffering from acute bronchitis. Other symptoms of acute bronchitis include fever, breathlessness, wheezing, sore throat, headaches and a runny nose amongst others.

Chronic Bronchitis
People suffering from chronic bronchitis suffer from persistent coughing that lasts longer than three months. The cough is usually productive and painful and may cause the abdominal muscles to become sore. The primary cause of chronic bronchitis is smoking. Other reasons include irritants such as dust, chemicals and bacterial and viral infections. Smokers, people who have a weak immune system and those suffering from COPD are at a high risk of acquiring this disease.

Along with forceful coughing, symptoms of chronic bronchitis may also include wheezing and shortness of breath if the condition gets worse.

When should you visit a specialist?
Get an appointment with a specialist if symptoms of bronchitis get worse or don’t go away. See your doctor if you:

  • Have fever
  • Suffer from increased breathlessness
  • Cough up blood or discoloured phlegm
  • Experience wheezing
  • Have been coughing for more than 3 weeks
  • Can’t sleep well

How is Bronchitis diagnosed?
Acute Bronchitis:
The doctor will conduct a physical exam and enquire about symptoms. He/she may use a stethoscope to check your lungs for any abnormal sounds. In some cases, the doctor may ask for a chest X-ray to rule out pneumonia and other lung diseases.

Chronic Bronchitis:
The doctor will ask you about your medical history, conduct a physical exam and evaluate your symptoms. He may also ask for a chest x-ray, a pulse oximetry test and a pulmonary function test to establish a diagnosis. 

Further, it’s not just enough to know what is bronchitis, learning about the treatments involved can help you address your condition and take care of yourself to ensure faster recovery. 

What are the treatments involved?
Acute Bronchitis:
In most cases, symptoms of acute bronchitis go away on their own without any treatment. Common treatments include a few lifestyles changes and home remedies such as:

  • Getting plenty of rest and drinking lots of fluids to keep you hydrated
  • Using humidifiers to breathe in moist air
  • Avoiding exposure to irritants
  • Getting steam treatments to loosen the mucus so it can be coughed out easily
  • Giving up smoking
  • Sucking on lozenges or cough drops to soothe throat irritation
  • Using over the counter medication recommended by your doctor.

Chronic Bronchitis:
After establishing a diagnosis, your doctor will suggest a treatment plan which involves a combination of the above home remedies and medication such as:

  • Antibiotics if the bronchitis is due to a bacterial infection
  • Bronchodilator inhalers to help open up clogged airways
  • Oxygen therapy to facilitate easier breathing
  • Cough medications to suppress cough or loosen the mucus. However, suppressing the cough completely is not always recommended.
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation program which is a breathing exercise program to improve breathing

Besides the above, you can also exercise slowly a few times a week, then increase the frequency and speed gradually. This will strengthen the muscles that help you breathe. A technique called pursed-lip breathing can also slow down fast breathing which is usually a symptom of chronic bronchitis.

Also, regular follow-ups to the doctor’s clinic are required to monitor the condition. Call your doctor if you experience a sudden flare-up of symptoms.

You can reduce the risk of bronchitis by undertaking the following preventative measures:

  • Quit smoking if you already are. Avoid second hand smoke as it increases the risk of bronchitis.
  • Prevent infection by washing your hands frequently and maintain hygiene at your home and workplace.
  • Avoid exposure to irritants such as fumes, smoke, dust, chemicals and perfumes.
  • Wear a mask while going out to reduce exposure to pollution.

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