Bronchitis – Hello Health Hub
What is bronchitis?
Bronchitis is a respiratory infection of the central airways of the lungs (bronchi). The central airways branch off on either side of your windpipe (trachea). They lead to smaller and smaller airways inside your lungs called bronchioles.
The walls of the central airways produce mucus to trap dust and other particles that could otherwise irritate. Bronchitis happens when an infection irritates and inflames the airways. This causes them to produce more mucus than usual. Your body tries to shift this extra mucus through coughing.
Types of bronchitis
Bronchitis can be either acute bronchitis or chronic bronchitis.
Acute bronchitis - is a temporary airway inflammation, causing a cough and mucus. It can last for up to 3 weeks. It can affect people of all ages but mostly happens in children under 5 years of age. It's more common in winter and usually happens after a common cold, sore throat, or flu.
Chronic bronchitis - is a condition where a person has a cough that produces mucus every day for three months in a row per year and for at least two years in a row. It's one of several lung conditions collectively known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This is a very serious problem and causes the lining of the bronchial tubes in your lungs to be irritated or inflamed all the time. It mainly affects adults over 40.
Symptoms of bronchitis
The main symptom of acute bronchitis is a hacking cough. This cough may produce clear, yellow-grey or greenish mucus (phlegm).
Other bronchitis symptoms are like those of the common cold or sinusitis and may include:
- a sore throat
- a headache
- a runny or blocked nose
- aches and pains
If you have acute bronchitis, your cough may last for several weeks after other symptoms have gone. The continual coughing makes your chest and stomach muscles sore. Some people may remain with shortness of breath or wheezing because of inflamed airways. This is more common with long-term (chronic) bronchitis.
Causes of bronchitis include:
Viral and bacterial infections
Bronchitis is mostly caused by a virus. It is not as common to be because of bacteria. The same viruses that give you the common cold or flu usually cause bronchitis.
Anyone who touches these surfaces can spread the virus by touching something else. This is why it is important to wash your hands regularly to reduce your risk of spreading it or contracting it.
Breathing in irritant substances
Inhaling irritant substances can cause bronchitis. Examples of these are smog, chemicals in household products or tobacco smoke. Smoking is the main cause of chronic bronchitis. It can affect people who inhale second-hand smoke, as well as those who smoke themselves.
Smoking and bronchitis
It's important that you stop smoking if you have bronchitis. Smoking aggravates bronchitis and increases your risk of developing emphysema. Stopping smoking while you have bronchitis can also be the perfect opportunity to quit altogether.
Is bronchitis contagious?
Bronchitis can be contagious depending on the type. Acute bronchitis is very contagious because it is often caused by the same virus that causes the cold or flu. Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, is not contagious as it is a result of long-term inflammation of the airways.
In most cases, acute bronchitis clears up within a few weeks without needing treatment. However, the symptoms of bronchitis can last much longer. If you have symptoms for three months or longer, it is called chronic bronchitis. There’s no cure for chronic bronchitis, but some lifestyle changes can help ease your symptoms, such as:
- eating a healthy diet
- regular moderate exercise
- avoiding smoking
There are several medicines to relieve symptoms. Medicines called bronchodilators and steroids "open up" the airways. You can use these as an inhaler or as tablets. Mucolytic medicines thin the mucus in the lungs, making it easier to cough up.
Managing symptoms at home:
If you are suffering from acute bronchitis you should:
- get plenty of rest
- drink lots of fluid - to keep hydrated and it will also help loosen mucus in your lungs
- take paracetamol or ibuprofen if you have a high temperature or aches and pains
You should speak to your GP if your symptoms worsen or are slow to clear up. Sometimes bronchitis can develop into Pneumonia. This happens when the infection spreads deeper into the lungs. Causing the tiny air sacs inside the lungs to fill up with fluid.
About 1 in 20 cases of bronchitis lead to pneumonia. People with an increased risk of developing pneumonia include:
- elderly people
- people with a weakened immune system
- people with other health conditions, such as heart, liver or kidney disease
people who smoke
Mild pneumonia can usually be cleared up at home with antibiotics. However, more severe cases may be admitted to hospital.