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Overview of bronchitis

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Bronchitis is the medical condition during which the air passages within the lungs suffer from severe inflammation. This medical condition is characterized by coughing, chest tightness as well as shortness of breadth. Bronchitis can be of two types, namely, acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis.

Causes of bronchitis

Acute bronchitis is characterized by severe cough with or without the production of sputum/mucus. This type of bronchitis is usually caused by virus. Generally, a person suffering from upper respiratory tract infection like cold or flu develops acute bronchitis. Acute bronchitis is rarely caused by bacteria. On the other hand chronic bronchitis is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease caused from recurrent injury to the airways. This injury is usually caused by inhaled irritants from cigarette smoking, polluted air or occupational exposure to irritants.

Symptoms of bronchitis

Acute bronchitis is characterized by a cough that is dry and hacking at first. After a couple of days, the cough may produce mucus. At times the patient may also suffer from fever with chills, muscle aches, nasal congestion, and sore throat. This cough may last for more than two weeks and at times may injure the chest walls. This coughing at times is also accompanied by wheezing and shortness of breadth.

On the other hand, chronic bronchitis is characterized by productive cough that lasts for three months or more per year for at least two years. The other symptoms of chronic bronchitis includes: shortness of breath, especially with exertion; wheezing; and chest tightness. Moreover, a person suffering from chronic bronchitis is often susceptible to bacterial infections like pneumonia of the airway and lungs.


Diagnosis Acute Bronchitis

Incase of acute bronchitis, the symptoms explained above are indicative enough for diagnosis. However, at times the doctor may take a chest X-ray in order to make sure that it is not a case of pneumonia or other lung problems.

Diagnosis Chronic Bronchitis

The diagnosis of chronic bronchitis involves complete evaluation of the patient’s medical history as well as his physical condition. It is done by a qualified health care professional. This determines the type and severity of chronic bronchitis and thereby the course of treatment suitable for the patient. However, a few diagnostic tests like lung function tests, such as a spirometry test is conducted to measure the intake and output of air to and from the lungs. This test is done for diagnosis purpose as well as on a regular basis in order to monitor the effectiveness of the treatment. A chest X-ray and CT scan of the chest may also be done. These are conducted to make sure if conditions like pneumonia and congestive heart failure are present in the patient as it may worse as well as complicate the situation. The diagnosis also involves arterial blood gas test that evaluates parameters related to effective breathing. For example, arterial blood gas provides information related to the level of oxygen in the blood. Apart from these, a sample of the sputum is also tested to check for any bacterial infection in the lungs.

Treatment for Acute Bronchitis

The treatment of acute bronchitis begins at home itself. Almost 90% of acute bronchitis cases are caused by viral infection. As antibiotics do not cure viral infections, it is not advised for acute bronchitis. Instead only the medications that may relive the discomfort arising from the symptoms are advised. The patient is advised: to take Acetaminophen (Feverall, Panadol and Tylenol), Aspirin, or Ibuprofen (Motrin, Nuprin and Advil) for his fever and muscle aches; a cool mist vaporizer or humidifier reduces the bronchial irritation; and an over-the-counter cough suppressant like preparations of Guaifenesin (Robitussin, Breonesin and Mucinex) provides comfort from coughing. The patient is also advised to increase his fluid intake as fever causes the body to lose fluid faster. However, if the patient develops symptoms like: severe coughing that interferes with rest or sleep; wheezing that does not respond to an inhaler with albuterol; continuous fever beyond four to five days; or the production of blood, rust-colored sputum, or an increased amount of green phlegm, he should immediately seek medical help. The doctors in such cases usually prescribe medications like bronchodilators that are used to treat asthma. These medications are often given through inhalers or nebulizer machines.

Treatment for Chronic Bronchitis

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The treatment of chronic bronchitis on the other hand starts by reducing the exposure to the irritants responsible for it. After, a patient is diagnosed with chronic bronchitis; the physician would decide what medication or combinations of medications best for the patient. He may advise the patient to take short-acting or long-acting bronchodilators. These are at times directly breathed into the lungs using an inhaler. Bronchodilators can also be consumed in the form of pills. At times Corticosteroids can also be prescribed for inhalation.

Other Therapies

Moderate to severe chronic bronchitis may also be treated with oxygen therapy. During this therapy supplemental oxygen is given to the patient through small nasal prongs or a mask to improve the reduced level of oxygen in the blood. Another form of treatment of chronic bronchitis is pulmonary rehabilitation. This involves a life style management program along with medically supervised exercise program, disease management training, as well as diet and psychological counseling to improve the overall quality of health.

Precautions for bronchitis

A person should take proper preventive measures in order to avoid bronchitis in the first place. Hands should be washed often especially during cold and flu season to prevent the spread of many of the germs that cause the condition. Smoking should be completely avoided. Even passive smoking induced by the presence of active smokers should also be avoided as much as possible. This is because even second hand smoking makes a person more susceptible to viral infections by increasing the congestion in the airway. Last but not the least the body should be given plenty of rest and the right nutrition to fight off any illness that might contact it.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: April 13, 2015

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