by Kimberly Allen RN
Bronchitis is another common respiratory condition that is more prevalent in the fall through spring months. It is an inflammation of the mucous membrane that lies the bronchial tubes. There are two types of bronchitis, acute and chronic. Each is a separate condition with it’s own cause, symptoms and treatment.
Acute bronchitis frequently follows some other type of upper respirator infection like a cold or the flu. However, it can develop independently. Viruses are responsible for most cases of bronchitis, at least 90%, with bacteria causing the remaining 10%. Bronchitis affects the lining of the bronchial tubes which are the two large airways that branch off from the trachea. Bronchiolitis is when the inflammation affects the small bronchiols that branch off the larger bronchi. Acute bronchitis usually starts with a cough. Then as the inflammation progresses narrowing the bronchial tubes it becomes more difficult for the air to pass through in and out of the lungs which usually results in wheezing, more coughing and shortness of breath. Frequently you have whats called a productive cough, that means coughing up sputum or mucous. Occasionally, if the inflammation is severe and the coughing frequent there may also be some bleeding in the bronchi which will show up in the mucous. You will also usually experience a fever and chills as well as general aches, weakness and fatigue. It is possible to have another infection in addition to bronchitis, like a cold or the flu, at the same time. A cold involves whats called the upper airways, the mouth, nose and throat, where as bronchitis involves the lower airways the bronchial tubes etc in the lungs. Though acute bronchitis frequently improves in a few days to a week you may have a nagging cough for several weeks. If your acute bronchitis is severe the Dr may prescribe an albuterol inhaler to help open your bronchial tubes allowing the air to pass through more easily. Some Drs will also prescribe short term corticosteroid therapy with prednisone. It’s also important to stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of fluids also help to keep the bronchial secretions thinner and easier to cough up. Taking over the counter medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen for any fever and aches you may experience can also make you more comfortable. However, never give aspirin to children and read labels carefully as many over the counter medicines contain aspirin. Antibiotics do not work on viral infections so your Dr will only give them if the infection is bacterial.
Chronic bronchitis is not only more serious but is also one of the conditions that is included in COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In chronic bronchitis you have a chronic productive cough for months at a time. It is also possible to have an episode of acute bronchitis in addition to chronic bronchitis. You can also have periods with no symptoms, but they always return. The most common cause of bronchitis is smoking. However it can also be caused by air pollution or frequent exposure to other respiratory irritants such as chemical fumes or dust. This type of exposure causes repeated injury to the lining of the bronchi resulting in a chronic inflammation and cough. Treatment of chronic bronchitis focuses on treating the symptoms. Inhalation therapy with corticosteroids reduces the inflammation while the wheezing ans shortness of breath are treated with bronchodialators.
The best way to prevent bronchitis is to avoid cigarette smoke and other respiratory irritants. Get your annual flu vaccine because frequently acute bronchitis develops from the influenza virus. And always practice good hand washing and teach children the importance of good hand washing. Hand sanitizers now come in all shapes and sizes including pocket size so they can be taken with you when you’re on the run. Eating healthy and exercising regularly also helps to maintain your immune system and a healthy immune system will be able to fight most viral infections with minimal disruption in your everyday life.