What is bronchitis??

Updated: February 2020

Acute bronchitis usually is associated with an upper respiratory tract infection. It is one of the most common illnesses affecting the respiratory tract. A distinction can be made between acute and chronic bronchitis.

Acute bronchitis usually only persists for two weeks. It is mainly caused by viruses and often occurs with or after a cold.

Chronic bronchitis lasts more than three months and is caused by chronic irritation of the bronchi due to chemical substances. The main cause of chronic bronchitis is smoking.

In children, spastic bronchitis (obstructive bronchitis) is not uncommon. As with adults, the illness starts with a cold or a blocked/runny nose. After one to two days, attacks of coughing occur. Since the bronchi are much tighter in children than in adults, it results in much less respiratory distress.

Symptoms of acute bronchitis

The most significant symptom of bronchitis is severe coughing. The organism tries to remove pathogens from the bronchi in this way. Initially, the cough is usually dry. During the course of the illness, the production of mucus increases resulting in whitish sputum. If the sputum turns yellowish-greenish during the course of the illness, this could indicate an additional bacterial infection.

As acute bronchitis is often caused by a cold, other symptoms such as headache, aching limbs, blocked/runny nose and a mild fever are common.
Sometimes, especially in children, the bronchial tissue can become so irritated that the bronchial muscles cramp. This causes convulsions of the lung tissue, which also is referred to as spastic bronchitis. Typical symptoms are not only the cough but also a whistling sound when breathing.

Causes of acute bronchitis

In most cases, acute bronchitis is caused by cold viruses. In the winter, there is an increased risk of developing acute bronchitis, as the mucous membranes dry up and are less well supplied with blood due to cold ambient temperatures and heated air indoors. The body’s natural defences decrease.
Acute bronchitis often is associated with inflammation of the upper respiratory tract.

Treatment of acute bronchitis

As bronchitis is mainly caused by viruses, antibiotic therapy is not advisable. Antibiotics also are administered only in the case of a secondary infection with bacteria.

Expectorant drugs can be used to alleviate the symptoms of acute bronchitis. At night, cough suppressants also may quell irritation of the throat, but these only should be taken in exceptional circumstances so mucus is able to leave the body.

Preventive measures for acute bronchitis

The inflammation which underlies acute bronchitis is transmitted by means of a droplet infection. Sufferers should be careful not to cough on others.
In addition, other adverse factors, such as cigarette smoke or chemicals should be avoided.