Bronchitis – What it is and How to Treat It

1. What Is Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the large bronchial tubes, the main airway of the lungs. There are two types of bronchitis: Acute and Chronic. Chronic bronchitis occurs as a result of the lungs being constantly irritated and inflammed. Cigarette smokers generally end up developing chronic bronchitis, a serious disease of the bronchial tubes that lead to excessive mucus production and chronic cough. Because their airways are already damaged, treatment differs for people with chronic bronchitis. These people will need to see their provider right away.

Acute bronchitis (short term bronchitis) is caused by the same viruses that cause the common cold or the flu. This article deals with the symptoms and treatment of acute bronchitis.

2. What Are the Chief Symptoms of Acute Bronchitis?

  • cough
  • shortness of breath
  • chest tightness or wheezing

Bronchitis usually starts as a cold with symptoms such as sore throat, runny nose, or sinus infection which then settles in the chest. The large airway becomes inflammed and produces excessive mucus (can be yellow or brown), cough and shortness of breath.

This cough can last 3 weeks. Bronchitis is sometimes referred to as a “chest cold”. In 90% to 95% of cases, it is caused by a VIRUS. Antibiotics kill BACTERIAL infections, not VIRAL infections. That is why antibiotics are generally not prescribed.

3. How Do I Know It Is Not Pneumonia?

In healthy, non-elderly adults, pneumonia is uncommon in the absence of certain signs. The classic signs of pneumonia include:

  • fever greater than 101
  • rapid heart rate
  • rapid breathing

In addition, listening to your lungs with a stethoscope will let your provider know if your lungs are likely to be infected.

A chest x-ray is generally not needed unless your cough continues for more than 3 weeks in the absence of other known causes such as allergies, asthma or gastroesophageal reflux (GERD).

4. What Can Be Done To Help Me Feel Better?

Since antibiotics are useless in killing viruses, the key is to manage your symptoms. Expectorants to help you bring up phlegm, ibuprofen or acetaminophen, and sometimes an inhaler will help reduce your symptoms. Keep in mind though that your cough will probably be the last thing to clear up.

Changes in air temperature (going from a warm house to the outside), cigarette smoke, chemical odors etc. can often trigger a coughing spasm. That is why if you smoke, please try to stop during your illness (in fact, now might be the time to stop for good!).Wear a muffler to protect your nose and mouth when you go outside into the cold.

You should start to feel better in 7 to 10 days, but your cough may linger for up to 3 weeks. If your cough has shown no improvement by then, you will need to see your provider.