Contributed by: Abshar Faheem


What is bronchitis?

Bronchitis is a condition wherein the tubes that bring air to the mouth, nose, and lungs, known as the bronchial tubes, become inflamed and swollen. Some bronchitis symptoms include sore throat, wheezing, coughing up, thickened mucus, and shortness of breath. People with bronchitis may also face difficulty freeing heavy mucus or phlegm from their airways.

People can have both acute or chronic bronchitis. Acute bronchitis, a chest cold, is a short-term bronchitis inflammation of the lungs caused by viral infection. Acute bronchitis usually clears up and does not cause any permanent damage. It has more common symptoms that can last for a few weeks such as cough with sputum, chest discomfort, body aches, and chills, runny or stuffy nose, nasal congestion, mild headache, fever, or chest pressure. Symptoms of acute bronchitis can be prevented by not smoking and avoiding other lung irritants. 

On the other hand, chronic bronchitis is a condition in which the air tubes present in your lungs called bronchi become irritated and inflamed. Through coughing, harmful substances present in your lungs can get removed but too much coughing that keeps coming back can be a serious condition and leads to chronic bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis can be for at least 3 months or more per year for at least two years.

Chronic bronchitis can be an ongoing illness that can never completely go away. When it occurs with decreased airflow, it is called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD. Many people with chronic bronchitis have COPD however, most people with COPD do not have chronic bronchitis. Symptoms of chronic and acute bronchitis can be alike. In chronic bronchitis, your airways get filled with thick mucus, and small hairs that usually help to remove phlegm from your lungs get damaged. This makes you cough too much and the illness continues making it difficult for you to breathe. Symptoms of chronic bronchitis include:

  • Frequent coughing
  • Tightness in your chest
  • Wheezing
  • A whistling sound when you breathe
  • Shortness of breath especially when you do physical activity
  • Feeling tired

Your symptoms can be worse in winters when the level of humidity and temperature fall. 


Causes of acute bronchitis

The viruses or bacteria that cause cold or flu may often cause acute bronchitis. These viruses or bacterial substances can cause an inflammation of the bronchial tubes. These infections may be spread through the air when people cough or by direct contact. People who are exposed to tobacco smoke, secondhand smoke, air pollution, dust, fumes, and vapors may also get chronic bronchitis. Although, people who never smoke may also get acute bronchitis. People with asthma or allergy can have a higher risk of developing acute bronchitis. Frequent handwashing, avoiding smoking and other lung irritants can be helpful to prevent acute bronchitis. 


Causes of chronic bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis develops due to repeated irritation and long-term exposure to irritants that damage your lungs and airways. The general cause of chronic bronchitis is smoking cigarettes but non-smokers may also get it. Other types of tobacco such as cigars and pipe may also cause chronic bronchitis especially when you inhale them. Exposure to other irritants may also cause chronic bronchitis including,

  • Second-hand smoke
  • Air pollution
  • Chemical fumes or dust
  • Engine exhaust
  • Coal, fire smoke
  • Genetic factors
  • Exposure to pesticides
  • Asthma or allergies

The best strategy to prevent chronic bronchitis is to stop smoking.


Treatment of bronchitis

Your doctor may advise you on some home remedies for bronchitis including, drinking plenty of fluids, using a humidifier to keep airways moist, stop smoking, getting plenty of rest, and drinking tea with honey, lemon, or ginger. These home remedies can ease your symptoms but if you have trouble breathing, talk to your doctor immediately. On the other hand, medications and certain lifestyle changes can reduce or slow the symptoms of chronic bronchitis and prevents it from getting worse. Stop smoking, avoiding second-hand smoke, plenty of exercises, avoiding bad air, pulmonary rehabilitation, vaccination, and supplemental oxygen therapy can be helpful to reduce the symptoms and may slow your condition from getting worse. 


The bottom line

The complications of chronic bronchitis are pneumonia, COPD, difficulty in breathing, emphysema, respiratory failure, and polycythemia. Keep in touch with your doctor regularly to reduce the chances of complications and also to manage and control your health issues on time. 


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