Bronchitis is defined as a condition which involves an inflammation of bronchial tubes that carry the air to and from the alveoli (the lowest part of the lungs which plays a role in exchanging oxygen). The inflammation causes thick mucus to form in the bronchial tubes and to be brought up with a cough. Bronchitis usually occurs following the flu or a common cold and bronchitis is more common in children of older age and adults. Bronchitis should not be confused with bronchiolitis, which is more common in babies.
There are two types of bronchitis, including acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis.
Acute bronchitis occurs as a result of viral infections or lung irritants, and sometimes it can be caused by bacteria, too. Acute bronchitis usually lasts about 10 days.
Chronic bronchitis is a long-term serious condition which occurs when the lining of the bronchial tubes is constantly irritated and inflamed. Symptoms of chronic bronchitis worsen over time and last for at least 3 months.
The main acute bronchitis symptom is a persistent cough with mucus. Other symptoms of acute bronchitis are similar to those of a common cold, including sore throat, wheezing, fatigue, shortness of breath, low-grade fever, and chest tightness. These symptoms normally last for a few weeks.
The symptoms of chronic bronchitis are very similar to acute bronchitis symptoms but they are more severe and can last from three months to years.
The main cause of bronchitis is a viral infection. Several other types of viruses, including those that cause the flu and a common cold, can also be a bronchitis cause.
Major bronchitis risk factors include smoking tobacco, exposure to lung irritants, being diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and having a weakened immune systems.
Treatment for both types of bronchitis is meant to relieve the symptoms and ease the breathing.
To treat acute bronchitis, rest, plenty of fluids, and aspirin (for adults) or acetaminophen are recommended. Antibiotics are usually not prescribed for treating bronchitis unless the cause is a bacterial infection. If wheezing is present with the disease, inhaled medicines may be described. Inhaled medicines can be delivered to the lungs using an inhaler or a nebulizer. A nebulizer is recommended for treating bronchitis in elderly people, infants, and young children, because their age-related weakness in muscles or tremor (shaking of muscles) can cause difficulties using an inhaler.
Chronic bronchitis treatment options are similar to those for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including taking a combination of medicines like inhaled bronchodilators and inhaled steroids with the use of a nebulizer, and receiving oxygen therapy.