Bronchitis is a common respiratory illness caused by inflammation of the air passages in the lungs. It usually occurs after exposure to irritants such as dust, smoke, chemicals, pollen, animal dander, or viruses.
Most people associate bronchitis with wintertime because it’s most prevalent during colder months. However, bronchitis is also very common throughout the year. In fact, it’s estimated that over 200 million Americans suffer from acute bronchitis each year.
Bronchitis symptoms include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, fever, chills, fatigue, sore throat, headache, muscle ache, body aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite.
If you suspect you may have bronchitis, see your doctor immediately. He/she will perform tests to determine whether you have pneumonia or another lung infection. If you do not receive treatment within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms, you risk complications including hospitalization.
Types of Bronchitis
1. Acute bronchitis:
This type of bronchitis develops suddenly, often after an upper respiratory tract infection (URI). Symptoms typically last for 2-3 weeks. Acute bronchitis can be treated at home with rest, fluids, cough medicine, and antibiotics if necessary.
2. Chronic bronchitis:
Chronic bronchitis is characterized by a persistent cough lasting more than 3 months. The cough is accompanied by sputum production and increased mucus secretion. These symptoms are similar to those associated with acute bronchitis but persist longer. Chronic bronchitis is much less common than acute bronchitis. Treatment includes rest, fluid intake, and anti-inflammatory medications.
3. Asthma bronchitis:
Asthma bronchitis is a combination of asthma and chronic bronchitis. People with asthma experience episodes of wheezing, difficulty breathing, and coughing due to airway obstruction. They also produce excess mucous secretions which cause their cough to become productive. Asthma bronchitis can occur when someone has both asthma and chronic bronchitis.
Symptoms Of Bronchitis
Some common symptoms of bronchitis include:-
A cough can be dry (without mucus) or wet (with mucus). Dry coughs tend to occur when there is no infection; however, they can last for weeks. Wet coughs are more likely to indicate an infection. Coughing is often worse at night, especially if you wake up due to difficulty breathing.
Wheezing is a whistling sound made while inhaling or exhaling. The noise is similar to the sound made by blowing across the end of a whistle.
3. Chest Tightness
Chest tightness is a feeling of pressure around the chest area. This sensation is often accompanied by pain.
Fever is a sign of infection. Most people who have colds feel warm to hot. Some people experience fevers of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
Fatigue is a feeling of extreme exhaustion. You might find yourself unable to get out of bed.
6. Sore Throat
Sore throats are red and swollen. They may hurt when swallowing.
Headaches are painful sensations on one side of the head.
8. Muscle Ache
Muscle ache refers to severe pains in muscles. These pains may be felt all over the body.
Nausea is a feeling of sickness or queasiness. People who experience this symptom often vomit.
Vomiting is the act of throwing up. When someone vomits, he/she loses control of his/her stomach contents.
Diarrhea is loose bowel movements.
12. Loss Of Appetite
Loss of appetite means that you don’t want to eat much.
Causes of bronchitis
There are many causes of bronchitis:
This can be viral or bacterial. Common culprits include influenza A and B, parainfluenza virus, adenovirus, coronavirus, rhinovirus, and Mycoplasma pneumonia.
These can cause asthma-like symptoms. They include hay fever, food allergies, pet allergies, and drug allergies.
Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
4. Exposure to pollutants
Exposure to ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and other toxins can lead to asthma-like symptoms.
This affects approximately 10% of adults and 2% of children. It’s characterized by recurrent episodes of wheezing, cough, and difficulty breathing.
6. Asthma medications
These include beta agonists, corticosteroids, leukotriene inhibitors, antihistamines, and cromolyn sodium.
7. Other conditions
Other conditions that can trigger an attack of bronchitis include sinus infections, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and heartburn.
Diagnosis of bronchitis
The diagnosis of bronchitis is based on clinical findings and physical examination. A person who suspects he/she may have bronchitis should contact his/her physician right away. Your doctor will ask questions regarding your medical history, current health status, recent illnesses, allergies, smoking habits, and family medical history. You may be asked to provide a sample of your urine, blood, saliva, or nasal discharge for analysis.
Tests performed to diagnose bronchitis include:
X-rays allow doctors to view internal structures and organs. Doctors use x-rays to look for signs of pneumonia, tumors, cysts, abscesses, enlarged lymph nodes, and other conditions.
Blood tests help doctors measure levels of certain substances in the blood. Tests may show how well your immune system is functioning. Certain blood tests may reveal evidence of inflammation, infections, and other diseases.
Lung function test
This test measures the amount of oxygen that flows into and out of your lungs. It helps doctors assess how well your lungs work.
Pulmonary Function Test
This test measures the volume of air that moves through your lungs. It shows how well your lungs work and whether they are inflamed.
Pulmonary Function Testing – This test measures the capacity of your lungs to transfer oxygen from the atmosphere into your bloodstream. It allows doctors to evaluate the effectiveness of treatments such as inhaled steroids.
Prevalence of bronchitis varies depending on age group. The majority of cases occur in individuals between 5 and 64 years old. Children under five years of age account for more than half of all cases.
The highest incidence of bronchitis occurs among women between the ages of 30 and 49. Women tend to experience two to three times more severe attacks than men.
Risk factors for developing bronchitis include:
Age – Bronchitis is most common in older adults. People 65 and older are at higher risk than those younger than 50.
Gender – Men are more likely to develop bronchitis than women.
Race – African American and Hispanic populations are more prone to bronchitis than Caucasians.
Family history – Having one parent who has had a bout of bronchitis increases the likelihood of developing this condition.
Environmental exposures – Living near major highways, industrial areas, or power plants increases the risk of contracting bronchitis.
Occupation – Workers exposed to dust, fumes, or chemicals face increased risks of developing bronchitis.
If left untreated, bronchitis can result in serious complications.
Pneumonia is a potentially life-threatening complication of bronchitis. It’s caused when bacteria infect the lungs. Symptoms include high fever, chills, rapid breathing, fatigue, weakness, and chest pain.
Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
ARDS is a medical emergency that causes inflammation of the lungs. It’s often associated with sepsis, trauma, or pneumonia.
Chronic lung diseases
If bronchitis goes untreated, it can lead to chronic lung diseases like emphysema and fibrosis.
Bronchitis is typically treated using over-the-counter medications, which help relieve symptoms. Medication options include:
These drugs reduce histamine levels and ease allergic reactions. They also decrease mucous production. Common brands include Benadryl, Claritin, Allegra, Zyrtec, and others.
These medicines work by reducing secretions from the airways. Examples include Robitussin, Sudafed, Dimetapp, and others.
These medications thin mucous secretions and loosen phlegm. Examples include Chloraseptic, Kaopectate, and others.
Oral steroids are used to treat asthma and other conditions that cause excess mucus production. Examples include Prednisone, Flovent, and others.
Antibiotics kill viruses and bacteria that cause bronchitis. Common antibiotics include Amoxicillin, Azithromycin, Cefdinir, Erythromycin, Levofloxacin, and others.
Home remedies may provide some relief from symptoms of bronchitis, but they are not an effective treatment.
There are several home remedies that may help with bronchitis. Some of these include:
Echinacea – This herb is known for its immune system-boosting properties. It helps boost white blood cells and fight off infections.
Garlic – Garlic contains powerful anti-bacterial compounds that aid in fighting infection.
Hot tea bags – Hot water extracts the active ingredients out of hot tea bags. The steam opens up the sinuses and loosens phlegm.
Lemon juice – Lemon juice works well on irritated throats and sinuses. It also reduces mucous secretion.
Vitamin C – Vitamin C aids in healing wounds and fights infection. It also boosts immunity.
Apple cider vinegar – Apple cider vinegar soothes inflamed tissues and tightens pores. It also has an antiseptic effect.
Peppermint oil – Peppermint oil relieves coughs and clears sinuses.
How to prevent bronchitis
Preventing bronchitis requires awareness of your surroundings and taking precautions.
Here are a few tips to keep yourself healthy during the cold season:
- Wash your hands frequently throughout the day. Hand washing removes germs and prevents spreading them.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, mouth, and throat. Germs spread easily through contact with contaminated objects.
- Avoid sharing items such as towels, bedding, and clothes. Sharing these items increases the risk of passing germs between people.
- Stay hydrated. Dehydration makes you more susceptible to illness. Drink plenty of fluids each day.
- Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep leads to exhaustion and poor health. Try going to bed early and waking up at least eight hours later than usual.
- Get regular exercise. Exercise improves overall health and strengthens muscles.
- Take care when around sick people. Stay away from those who have colds or flu.
- If you already have a cold, avoid crowds and public places. Avoid close contact with people who are coughing or sneezing.
- If you develop a fever, stay home until it goes down. Do not go back to school or work if you feel ill.
Bronchitis is a common respiratory disease caused by inflammation of the airways. Symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, wheezing, and coughing. Bronchitis can be treated with over-the-counter medicines and home remedies. Home remedies do not cure bronchitis; however, they may relieve symptoms.
Bharat Sharma is a Delhi-based writer who loves reading and writing research-based topics revolving around health, fitness, and nutrition. His love for writing started during his teenage and continues till date. After his graduation, he worked for GE Money, and IBM, but later found his true love i.e. blogging.