What is bronchitis?
Your bronchial tubes carry air from your trachea (windpipe) into your lungs. When inflammation occurs in these tubes inflamed, mucus can build up. This condition is known as bronchitis, and it causes symptoms that can include coughing, shortness of breath, and low fever.
Bronchitis can be acute or chronic:
- Acute bronchitis typically lasts less than 10 days, but the coughing can be persistent for many weeks.
- Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, can last for many weeks and often comes back. This condition is more common in people with asthma or emphysema.
Read on to know more about symptoms, causes, and treatment of acute bronchitis.
Symptoms of acute bronchitis
The first symptoms of acute bronchitis mimics the symptoms of a cold or flu.
These symptoms can include:
- runny nose
- sore throat
- feeling cold easily
- back and muscle aches
- increased temperature of 100°F to 100.4°F (37.7°C to 38°C)
After the initial infection, you’ll likely to develop cough. The cough will be usually dry at first, and then become productive, which means it will produce mucus. A productive cough is the most common symptom of acute bronchitis and can last from ten days to three weeks.
Another symptom you may notice is a change of color in your mucus, from white to green or yellow. This doesn’t mean that your infection is viral or bacterial. It just means that your immune system is at work.
Call your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms in addition to the ones listed above:
- unexplained weight loss
- a deep, barking cough
- trouble breathing
- chest pain
- a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher
- a cough that lasts longer than 10 days
Diagnosing acute bronchitis
In many cases, acute bronchitis will recover without any treatment. But if you see your doctor because of symptoms of acute bronchitis, they will begin with a physical exam.
During the exam, your doctor will listen to your lungs when you breathe, checking for symptoms such as wheezing. They’ll also you ask about your coughs — for instance, how frequent they are and whether they produce mucus. They may also ask about recent colds or viral infections, and whether you have other problems related to breathing.
Blood tests and cultures might be required if your doctor thinks you have another infection along with bronchitis.
Treatment for acute bronchitis
Unless your symptoms are severe, there’s not a lot your doctor can do to for the treatment of acute bronchitis. In most cases, treatment majorly includes home care.
Home care tips
These steps should help alleviate your symptoms as you get better.
These tips can help relieve most symptoms, but if you’re wheezing or having difficulty breathing, visit your doctor. They can recommend inhaled medication to help open your airways.
Treatment with antibiotics
When you feel sick, you may really hope your doctor will recommend medication to help you feeling better.
It’s necessary to know, though, that antibiotics aren’t suggested for people with acute bronchitis. Most cases of the condition are caused by viruses, and antibiotics don’t work on viruses, so the antibiotics wouldn’t help you treat this condition.
Though, if you have acute bronchitis and have a high risk of pneumonia, your doctor may recommend antibiotics during cold and flu season. This is because acute bronchitis can develop into pneumonia, and antibiotics could help prevent this from developing pneumonia.
Acute bronchitis in children
Children have more chances to develop acute bronchitis than the average adult. This is partially due to risk factors that only affect them, which may include:
- more exposure to viruses in locations such as schools and playgrounds
- chronic sinusitis
- enlarged tonsils
- inhaled pollutants, including dust
Symptoms and treatment
The symptoms of acute bronchitis in children are very much the similar to those in adults. Due to this reason, the treatment is very similar as well.
Your child should drink plenty of clear fluids and get enough bed rest. For fever and aches, you can give them acetaminophen (Tylenol).
However, you shouldn’t give OTC medications to children younger than 6 years old without a doctor’s advice. Avoid cough medications also, because they may not be safe.
Causes and risk factors of acute bronchitis
There are several possible causes of acute bronchitis, as well as factors that increase your risk of having this condition.
Causes of acute bronchitis are viral and bacterial infections,some environmental factors, and other lung conditions.
Bacterial infection: In very few cases, bacterial bronchitis can develop after a viral infection of bronchitis. This can occur due to infections by bacteria such as Mycoplasma pneumoniae, Chlamydia pneumoniae, and Bordetella pertussis (which causes whooping cough).
Irritants: Breathing in irritants such as smoke, smog, or chemical fumes can cause inflammation in your trachea and bronchial tubes. This can lead to acute bronchitis.
Other lung conditions: People having chronic bronchitis or asthma sometimes develop acute bronchitis. In these cases, acute bronchitis isn’t probably to be contagious as it’s not caused by an infection.
Factors that increase your risk of acute bronchitis are the following:
- breathing in cigarette smoke, including secondhand smoke
- reduced resistance to illnesses or a weakened immune system
- gastric reflux
- repeated exposure to irritants, including dust or chemical fumes
- lack of vaccinations for the flu, pneumonia, and whooping cough
- age more than 50 years
Acute bronchitis vs. pneumonia
Causes: Bronchitis is most often caused by viruses, but can also be caused by bacteria or irritants. Pneumonia, however, is most often caused by bacteria, but can also be caused by viruses or other germs.
Both bronchitis and pneumonia are infections in your lungs. Two of the major differences between these conditions are the causative agents and parts of your lungs affeceted by both conditions.
Location: Bronchitis leads to inflammation in your bronchial tubes. These are tubes connected to your trachea that transport air into your lungs. They branch into smaller tubes called bronchioles.
Pneumonia, on the other hand, leads to inflammation in your alveoli which are small sacs at the ends of your bronchioles.
Treatment is different for both of these conditions, so your doctor will be careful to make the proper diagnosis.
Is bronchitis contagious?
Acute bronchitis is contagious. As it is caused by a short-term infection that can spread from one person to other. The infection can spread through mucus droplets discharged when you cough, sneeze, or talk.
Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, is noncontagious. This is because it’s not caused by an infection. Preferably, it’s caused by long-term inflammation, which often occurs due to exposure of irritants such as smoking. The inflammation can’t be spread to another person.
The symptoms of acute bronchitis Generally goes away within a few weeks. Though, if you get another infection following the first one, it may take more time for you to heal.
Preventing acute bronchitis
There’s no way to totally prevent acute bronchitis because it has a variety of causes. Though, you can reduce your risk by following the tips mentioned here.(1)
If you have a weak immunity, due to a health condition or older age, you should take special care to avoid having acute bronchitis. This is because you’re more probably to develop complications from it such as acute respiratory failure or pneumonia. Make sure to follow the prevention measures above to help reduce your risk.(2)