What is bronchitis?
Bronchitis is a respiratory condition characterized by inflammation of the bronchi. The main symptoms of bronchitis are: cough, phlegm and fatigue.
There are two types of bronchitis:
- acute bronchitis (the most common form of bronchitis) – symptoms last for several weeks and usually do not cause complications.
- chronic bronchitis, which is recurrent and has lasting manifestations.
- Most often, bronchitis is caused by the same virus that causes the common cold or flu. In some cases, however, bronchitis is caused by bacteria. In both cases, as the body fights off the germs, the bronchial tubes swell and produce more mucus that can build up in the lungs, leading to bronchitis.
Among the factors that promote bronchitis are:
- weakened immune system, especially in the elderly, infants and young children
- active or passive smoking
- dust, chemicals, toxic substances (inhalation of irritants reduces the ability of the airways to get rid of germs)
Most often, the symptoms coincide with respiratory problems, such as:
- dry cough (without sputum), which then becomes productive (eliminates sputum). The sputum may be yellow, green or transparent
- difficulty breathing or wheezing
- chills or moderate fever
- stuffy nose and sore throat
It is recommended that you seek medical attention if you have blood streaks in your sputum, a general feeling of asthenia, fever, cold-like symptoms that last more than three weeks, weight loss or difficulty breathing. Bronchitis can lead to pneumonia.
Diagnosis and treatment
- pulmonary examination and auscultation
- your medical and family history, current medications, allergies, smoking habits, etc.
- blood tests are usually not necessary
- you may be advised to have an x-ray to rule out pneumonia or to check the degree of damage to the lungs (especially if you smoke) and you may also need a breathing test (spirometry) to rule out asthma or emphysema
- blood oxygen levels can also be checked
- sputum can be analyzed to rule out other conditions
In most cases, bronchitis goes away on its own within a few weeks. If bronchitis is caused by bacteria, you need antibiotics.
Patients with asthma or allergies may be prescribed an inhaler. It helps unblock the airways and makes breathing easier.
Sometimes the doctor may recommend cough suppressants in the form of syrup or tablets. These are usually only prescribed if the cough is affecting your sleep, as cough suppressants can stop the cough causing further bronchial irritation. For children under the age of 4, cough suppressants are not recommended.
Home treatment includes:
- stay hydrated (drink 8 to 12 glasses of fluids per day)
- humidify the room (humidity can thin the mucus and make it easier to eliminate)
- take ibuprofen or acetaminophen to reduce symptoms (aspirin is not recommended for children)
Bronchitis can be prevented by:
- avoid tobacco
- vaccination against influenza
- vaccination against pneumonia – especially in people over 60
- frequent hand washing
- wearing a protective mask