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Bronchitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
Bronchitis is a health concern that is common in the winter months as a side effect of a cold, the flu, or another virus. With many viruses spreading this season, it’s important to be aware of potential illnesses and how to avoid them.
Here’s the difference between acute and chronic bronchitis, as well as the symptoms of bronchitis. We will also cover some of the treatment options doctors may recommend if you get bronchitis.
What is Bronchitis?
Bronchitis occurs when the lining of the bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from your lungs, are inflamed. This inflammation is typically accompanied by mucus.1
The bronchi are the main airways in the lungs, and they branch off to smaller airways, known as the bronchioles. The walls of the bronchi produce mucus that’s meant to trap dust and other particles that irritate the lungs.2
An infection can cause the bronchi to become irritated and inflamed, which causes an increase in mucus production. The body’s reaction to the extra mucus is coughing.
The same viruses that cause you to catch a cold or the flu can give you bronchitis. Bacteria, or other irritants and allergens, can also sometimes cause bronchitis.
Acute bronchitis is the most common form of bronchitis and is typically caused by a viral infection. Acute bronchitis will usually present itself after a cold or other viral infections in the respiratory tract. It can also occur in those who have allergies, sinusitis, or enlarged tonsils.3
Symptoms of acute bronchitis may last a few weeks, but acute bronchitis typically does not cause further health complications.
Chronic bronchitis lasts for months, and can even go on for years. If you have a cough with mucus that lasts for at least three months and occurs most days, you would most likely be diagnosed with chronic bronchitis.5
Signs of Bronchitis
Symptoms of bronchitis will vary depending on the severity and whether it’s an acute or chronic case. Early symptoms of bronchitis may include a dry cough and feeling tired, especially if you’ve had a cold or the flu.7
- Coughing with mucus
- Body aches
- Sore throat
Chronic bronchitis is more severe and the symptoms will be slightly different. Here are the signs of chronic bronchitis:
- Frequent coughing that produces a lot of mucus
- A whistling sound when you breathe
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in your chest
If you ever experience discolored or bloody mucus, a continuous fever higher than 100.4, and a cough that prevents you from sleeping, seek immediate medical attention.
Treatment for Bronchitis
Acute bronchitis typically resolves itself on its own, and does not need antibiotics. You can talk to your doctor about over-the-counter medicine to ease your symptoms, but they will not cure bronchitis. Here are some ways to help your body fight off the illness:
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Use a humidifier or cool mist vaporizer
- Use honey or lozenges to relieve a cough
- Use nasal spray to relieve a stuffy nose
- Quit smoking if you’re a smoker
- Avoid secondhand smoke
- Ask your doctor about what physical activity is safe for you
- Medicine such as Bronchodilators, which relaxes the muscles around your airways to help you breathe easier
- Oxygen therapy
- Pulmonary rehabilitation
- Lung transplant
How to Avoid Bronchitis
- Wash your hands frequently
- Avoid touching your face, since this can spread bacteria and any viruses you come in contact with
- Avoid people who are sick or coughing
- Avoid smoke
- Get the annual flu shot
Learn More Today
Take the time to learn more about respiratory viruses and how to protect yourself and your loved ones from getting sick this year. By knowing the signs of bronchitis and other common winter viruses, you can take the steps to reduce your risk and overcome illness.
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Saber Healthcare is an organization dedicated to providing consultant services to long-term care providers. This article is for informational purposes and is not meant to be seen as professional advice. Please consult with a medical expert before relying on the information provided.
- “Bronchitis.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Mayo Clinic. Accessed December 15th, 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bronchitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20355566#:~:text=Bronchitis%20is%20an%20inflammation%20of,be%20either%20acute%20or%20chronic.
- “Bronchitis.” NHS Inform, nhsinform.scot. Accessed December 16th, 2022. https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/lungs-and-airways/bronchitis#:~:text=Causes%20of%20bronchitis,-The%20bronchitis%20infection&text=In%20most%20cases%2C%20bronchitis%20is,spread%20about%201m%20(3ft).
- “Acute Bronchitis.” The Johns Hopkins University, The John Hopkins Hospital, and Johns Hopkins Health System, hopkinsmedicine.org. Accessed December 16th, 2022. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/acute-bronchitis.
- “Signs and Symptoms of COPD Exacerbation.” Saber Healthcare Group, saberhealth.com. November 16th, 2022. Accessed December 16th, 2022. https://www.saberhealth.com/news/blog/exacerbation-of-copd.
- “Chronic Bronchitis.” Cleveland Clinic, clevelandclinic.org. Accessed December 16th, 2022. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/3993-bronchitis.
- “Chronic Bronchitis.” National Library of Medicine, Medline Plus. Accessed December 16th, 2022. https://medlineplus.gov/chronicbronchitis.html.
- Marks, Julie. “What Are the Symptoms of Bronchitis?” Healthline Media, healthline.com. November 14th, 2018. Accessed December 16th, 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health/bronchitis-symptoms.
- “Chest Cold (Acute Bronchitis).” U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed December 15th, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/bronchitis.html.
- Lee, Katherine. “Bronchitis Causes and Prevention.” Everyday Health, everydayhealth.com. October 21st, 2022. Accessed December 16th, 2022. https://www.everydayhealth.com/lung-and-respiratory/bronchitis/understanding-what-causes-bronchitis-how-prevent-it/.