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What is bronchitis?

Bronchitis is a disease that occurs when there is an acute inflammation of the airways within the lungs. If infection or some other factors lead to inflammation of the trachea (windpipe) and the large and small bronchi (airways) within the lungs, a person is attacked by bronchitis. Because of this condition, the thin mucous lining of these bronchi get swollen and irritated. The cells that constitute this lining begin leaking fluids because of the inflammation. In a reflex action, a person resorts to coughing to clear secretions from the lungs and requires medical attention in the case of discomfort caused by severe bouts of coughing. Bronchitis knows no ages – it may occur in both adults and children with similar symptoms. Small kids mostly have bronchiolitis, which involves the smaller airways and causes asthma-like symptoms.

Symptoms of bronchitis:
Acute bronchitis often follows an upper respiratory infection like the common cold or a sinus problem. Symptoms in such cases include fever with chills, sore throat, nasal congestion and muscle pains. The most common symptom of bronchitis is cough, which may be dry or could produce phlegm. In case there is a significant production of phlegm, it indicates that infection has occurred at the lower respiratory tract and the lung itself, and pneumonia has set in. The cough may persist for over two weeks leaving your chest and abdominal muscles sore. Severe coughing sometimes can damage the chest wall or even cause the affected person pass out. Wheezing could occur due to the inflammation of the air passages which leaves a person short of breath.

Causes of bronchitis
It is during the cold and flue season that bronchitis makes its presence felt in a big way, accompanied often by an upper respiratory infection. Various types of viruses cause bronchitis, which include influenza A and B, commonly known as "the flu." Among bacteria that can cause is Mycoplasma pneumoniae, which is responsible for “walking pneumonia.” Inhalation of irritating fumes or dusts can also cause bronchitis. Researchers have found link between acute bronchitis and smoke, including that of tobacco, and chemical solvents. People who are more prone to bronchitis and even more severe symptoms are those with weak immune systems. Smokers and those who are often exposed to lung irritants run greater risk of getting bronchitis.

Treatment of bronchitis
As most cases of bronchitis arise out of viral infections, they happen to be short-term and need just the treatment of symptoms to relieve discomfort. But antibiotics will not be able to cure a viral illness. Although most people believe that antibiotics would bring them relief, researchers have warned that overuse of antibiotics is making many bacteria resistant to these drugs. A good doctor won’t prescribe antibiotic if your infection is because of a virus. Acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen can help relieve fever and muscle aches. Drinking fluids is also beneficial because fever makes the body lose fluid faster. A cool mist vaporizer or humidifier or over-the-counter (OTC) may be helpful.

Medical treatment of bronchitis depends on the suspected cause of the disease. In case a patient has severe coughing spells he/she cannot control, it’s wise to see the doctor for prescription strength cough suppressants. Bronchodilator inhalers can help open airways and decrease wheezing. Rarely does a patient need to be hospitalized unless he/she experiences breathing difficulty that cannot be cured by treatment.

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