Chronic Bronchitis – Symptoms and Causes

What Is Chronic Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is an lol inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes. These are the tubes that transport air to and from your lungs. People who have bronchitis usually have a continuous cough that brings up thickened, discolored mucus. They may also experience wheezing, chest pain, and breathlessness.(1)

Bronchitis may be either acute or chronic. Acute bronchitis occurs due to a cold or other respiratory infection, and usually improves within a few days without lasting effects. Chronic bronchitis is a more severe condition that develops over time rather than arriving suddenly. It’s specified by repeating episodes of bronchitis that last for several months or years. The persistent inflammation in the lining of the bronchial tubes causes excessive amounts of sticky mucus to build up in the airways. This reduces the amount of airflow going in and out of the lungs. The obstruction in airflow gets worse over time, leading to breathing problems and increased mucus production in the lungs.

Many people who have chronic bronchitis gradually develop emphysema, which is a form of lung disease. Together, the two conditions are referred to as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. According to the American Lung Association, more than 11 million people in the United States have COPD. However, there are many more people who don’t even know they have it.

The majority of COPD symptoms take some time for its progression, so people usually wrongly believe that the condition isn’t life-threatening and ignore the symptoms until the condition has progressed to a more severe stage. However, the condition can’t be cured, the symptoms can be controlled with treatment once a diagnosis is done.(2)

What Are the Symptoms of Chronic Bronchitis?

After a prolonged inflammation and irritation in the bronchial tubes, chronic bronchitis can lead to several characteristic symptoms, including a constant, heavy cough that brings up mucus from the lungs. The mucus may be yellow, green, or white.

As time passes, the amount of mucus increases due to the more production of mucus in the lungs. The mucus eventually builds up in the bronchial tubes and limits airflow, causing breathing to become very difficult. This shortness of breath may be accompanied by wheezing that gets worse during any type of physical work.

Other symptoms of chronic bronchitis may be the following:

  • exhaustion
  • a fever
  • chills
  • discomfort in chest
  • sinus congestion
  • bad breath

In the advanced stages of chronic bronchitis, the skin and lips may got a bluish color due to a deficiency of oxygen in the bloodstream. Reduced levels of oxygen in the blood can also cause peripheral edema, or swelling in the legs and ankles.

As chronic bronchitis proceeds, the symptoms can also differ in severity and frequency. For example, a cough may disappear for some times, only to be followed by a period of more intense coughing. More severe episodes may be stimulated by various factors, which includes:

  • respiratory tract infections, like the cold or flu
  • infections any where in the body
  • exposure to environmental irritants, such as air pollutions , dusts,fumes or mists
  • heart conditions

What Causes Chronic Bronchitis?

Chronic bronchitis occurs when the lining of the bronchial tubes frequently becomes irritated and inflamed. The persistent irritation and swelling can damage the airways and lead to a buildup of sticky mucus, making it troubling for air to move through the lungs. This causes breathing problems that eventually get worse. The inflammation can also damage the cilia, which are the hair-like structures that help to keep the air passages clear of germs and other irritants. When the cilia don’t work properly, usually growth of microbes occurs in airways and it leads to bacterial and viral infections.

Infections usually trigger the initial irritation and swelling that cause acute bronchitis. However, cigarette smoking is the most common cause of chronic bronchitis. In fact, over 90 percent of those with the disease have a history of smoking. Inhaling cigarette smoke transiently paralyzes the cilia, so repeated smoking over a large period of time can cause major damage the cilia. Chronic bronchitis may develop over time because of this damage.

Secondhand smoke can also lead to the development of chronic bronchitis. Other likely causes are, extended exposure to air pollution, industrial or chemical fumes, and toxic gases. Reccuring lung infections may also cause further damage to the lungs and worsen the symptoms of chronic bronchitis.

When Should I See My Doctor?

Many people discard the symptoms of chronic bronchitis, thinking that they simply have smoker’s cough. However, it’s necessary to contact your doctor immediately if you have even a very little doubt that you might have bronchitis. If you don’t get timely treatment for chronic bronchitis,it greatly increases your risk of severe lung damage, which can cause respiratory problems or heart failure.

Call your doctor immediately if your cough:

  • lasts longer than three weeks
  • disturbs your sleep
  • is accompanied by a fever more than 100.4°F
  • produces discolored mucus or blood
  • causes wheezing or breathlessness

How Is Chronic Bronchitis Diagnosed?

If you’re not sure about whether or not your symptoms are those of chronic bronchitis, tests are available to help your doctor make a certain diagnosis:

  • A chest X-ray can help eliminate other lung conditions, like pneumonia, that may be causing your cough.
  • Sputum is the mucus that you cough up from your lungs. Testing and examining the sputum can affirm the presence of bacteria and help your doctor determine the primary cause of your symptoms.
  • A pulmonary function test helps your doctor to assess how well your lungs are working. It can determine signs of asthma or emphysema by measuring how well you’re able to breathe and how easily your lungs are able to deliver oxygen throughout your body.
  • During a CT scan, your doctor takes high-resolution X-rays of your body from several angles, allowing your doctor to see your lungs and other organs more precisely.

How Is Chronic Bronchitis Treated?

Although there’s no cure for chronic bronchitis, the disease can be controlled with medical treatment and lifestyle improvements, particularly when a diagnosis is made early on.

Medical Treatments

On the basis of severity of your condition, your treatment plan may includes the following:

  • A bronchodilator is a type of medicine that opens the airways in your lungs, making breathing easier. The substance is often breathed in through an inhaler, which is a device that pumps the medicine into your lungs. Your doctor will help you how to use your inhaler correctly so you get the most from bronchodilator.
  • Theophylline is an oral medication that relaxes the muscles in your airways so they open up more, which helps relieve any breathing problems. Your doctor may suggest theophylline if you have severe dyspnea or breathlessness.
  • If your symptoms don’t improve with bronchodilator or theophylline, your doctor might prescribe steroids. These medications can be taken either with an inhaler or in the form of pill.
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation is a program that helps to improve your breathing and overall well-being. It usually includes exercise, nutritional counseling, and breathing plans. Some programs also include counseling. Your doctor may refer you to a pulmonary rehabilitation program at a hospital in your area.

Lifestyle Remedies

Making certain lifestyle adjustments and trying natural remedies can also help relieve your symptoms of chronic bronchitis. You may want to consider the following:

  • Breathing in warm, moist air from a humidifier can ease coughs and loosen the mucus in your airways. Ensure that you clean the humidifier regularly according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Bacteria and fungi can grow in the water container if it isn’t cleaned correctly.
  • You should stop smoking right away if you’re smoker. If you live in an area with high levels of air pollution, you should wear a mask whenever you go outside. You should also wear a mask if you work in an industry where you’re exposed to paint or household cleaners with strong fumes. Frequent exposure to these irritants can make your symptoms much worse.
  • Physical activity can strengthen the muscles that help you breathe. Preferably, you should exercise minimum three times a week for 30 minutes. If you didn’t work out before, start out slowly and gradually increase the length and intensity of your exercise routine. You can talk to your doctor to help you make an exercise plan that works for you.
  • Pursed-lip breathing can sometimes provide relief when you’re having trouble breathing. In pursed-lip breathing, you take a deep breath and then slowly breathe out through your mouth. As you breathe out, hold your lips as if you’re about to kiss someone. Doing this can help manage your breathing and make you feel better when you’re experiencing dyspnea or breathlessness.

How Can Chronic Bronchitis Be Prevented?

The most necessary thing you can do to lower your risk for chronic bronchitis is to avoid or quit smoking. Lung can be severely damaged when you inhale cigarette smoke over an extended period. Once you stop smoking, your lungs will begin to heal and you’ll be able to breathe much easier. You’ll also reduce your risk of developing lung cancer. Consult your doctor about quitting smoking or visit the American Lung Association website for tips.

It’s also necessary to avoid other lung irritants, such as paint, toxic fumes, and dust. If you work in an industry where you’re repeatedly exposed to such irritants, wear a mask over your nose and throat to protect your lungs.

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