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Bronchitis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Diagnosis

Bronchitis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Diagnosis

Max Lab

Feb 29, 2024

Bronchitis is a health condition that causes inflammation in the bronchial tubes. In simple words, these tubes are airways that lead to the lungs, and air flows through them. When the lining of these tubes gets inflamed, it may result in persistent coughing along with excessive mucus production. Often developing from a common cold or flu, bronchitis is among the most common infections of the lungs.

Here is a detailed explanation of bronchitis, its types, symptoms, causes, and treatment:

Types of Bronchitis

There are two types of bronchitis infections:

  • Acute Bronchitis: Also known as a chest cold, this is a type of bronchitis that is more common. Just like the common cold, an acute bronchitis infection doesn’t lead to any major issues, and the majority of the symptoms start improving within a week. However, the cough can last for a few weeks.
  • Chronic Bronchitis: As compared to acute bronchitis, this is a more serious condition. A chronic bronchitis infection causes constant irritation or inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes. Often caused by smoking, it never goes away completely and requires medical attention.

Symptoms

Both acute and chronic bronchitis have a few similar warning signs, such as:

Although the symptoms of bronchitis may start improving within a few weeks, the cough can take a little longer to resolve. It gets better only when the bronchial tubes start healing and the swelling starts subsiding.

Causes

In most cases, the common cause of bronchitis is the same virus that causes a common cold or flu. However, bacteria can also cause an acute bronchitis infection. No matter what the reason is, this is a health condition that causes the bronchial tubes to swell up. In addition to that, it also increases mucus production in the body significantly. As a result, the airways leading to the lungs get narrower, making it difficult for the person to breathe.

Apart from this, here are some of the main causes of chronic bronchitis:

  • Breathing in polluted air
  • Prolonged exposure to certain irritants, such as chemical fumes, dust, etc.
  • Smoking
  • Breathing in secondhand smoke for a long time

Risk Factors

Here are a few things that put an individual at a higher risk of developing a bronchitis infection:

Complications

Although a single episode of acute bronchitis should not be a cause for concern, sometimes it may lead to pneumonia. If left untreated for a long time, this may also result in repeated bronchitis flare-ups. Eventually, it may lead to chronic bronchitis and other COPDs (chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases).

Diagnosis

Generally, acute bronchitis is an infection that doesn’t cause any serious issues. But sometimes, it may lead to problems like fever, persistent cough, restlessness, etc., and this is when one should immediately visit a doctor.

The diagnosis of bronchitis only requires a physical exam, followed by a few simple questions. These questions can be related to coughing and the kind of mucus that comes with it. Depending on the symptoms experienced by an individual, the doctor may also suggest a few tests, such as:

  • Lung Function Test: Since bronchitis is a condition that directly affects an individual’s lungs, this is the most important test performed for the diagnosis. In this simple test, one has to breathe into a device called a spirometer. This test helps check for the presence of asthma and emphysema (a type of COPD that causes severe damage to the air sacs present in the lungs).
  • Chest X-ray: A chest X-ray helps diagnose pneumonia or any other health issues that can be the reason behind a persistent cough.
  • Blood Tests: The doctor may also suggest a few blood tests to identify signs of any infection in the body.
  • Mucus and Nasal Swab Test: If the doctor suspects any other bacterial infection, they will suggest a nasal swab test. This helps rule out a number of diseases, such as whooping cough, also known as pertussis.

Treatment

Acute bronchitis is a disease that takes a few days to get better with over-the-counter medication. If it is caused by bacteria, the doctor may prescribe an antibiotic and a few other medicines to ease other symptoms. If an individual has asthma or any kind of allergy, they are more likely to suggest an inhaler. It opens the airways by reducing inflammation, and one can easily breathe without any discomfort.

In addition to the bronchitis treatment, there are a few things one can do to ease the symptoms, such as:

  • Drinking plenty of water (at least 8–12 glasses)
  • Getting enough rest
  • Taking over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Using a humidifier
  • Taking a hot shower
  • Steam inhalation for loosening mucus

In chronic bronchitis, the doctor may also suggest oxygen therapy. Since it deals with low levels of oxygen in one’s blood, it is considered the best treatment for bronchitis. Other than this, people who have severe breathing problems are also advised to participate in a pulmonary rehabilitation program as part of chronic bronchitis treatment. It may include:

  • An exercise plan
  • Disease management training
  • Nutritional counselling
  • Psychological counselling

Prevention

There are several precautions that one can take to avoid a bronchitis infection, such as:

  • Staying away from any kind of smoke (active and passive, both)
  • Getting vaccinated on time
  • Washing hands often with soap and clean water
  • Wearing a mask while being around certain irritants like smoke, dust, paint fumes, etc.

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