The flu or a cold runs its course in a couple of weeks. But sometimes an individual may suffer from bronchitis as well. That’s when the bronchial tubes that carry air to the lungs get infected and swollen. One ends up with a nagging cough and a lot more mucus. An individual may get bronchitis in other ways too, usually, they are of two types, namely, acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis.
Acute bronchitis is the more common type of bronchitis. The symptoms last for a few weeks, but it does not usually cause any more problems past that.
Chronic bronchitis is more serious, and it keeps coming back or doesn’t go away at all. It’s one of the conditions that make up what’s known as the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Chronic bronchitis can be treated at specialized treatment centers for the condition.
Understanding chronic bronchitis
Chronic bronchitis is a persisting infection and inflammation of the bronchi—larger airways of the lungs. There are two main bronchi in the lungs, namely, the right bronchi and the left bronchi. These two bronchi divide from the trachea. Chronic bronchitis occurs as a part of the disease complex, COPD, which also includes small airways disease and emphysema. The bronchial tubes when inflamed produce a lot of mucus and this leads to difficulty in breathing and coughing. Chronic bronchitis refers to daily mucus production and a chronic cough for at least three months of two or more consecutive years.
Smoking cigarette is one of the most common causes of chronic bronchitis. However, breathing in fumes, air pollution, or dust over a long period may also cause it.
Chronic bronchitis is a long-term condition, which keeps coming back or never completely goes away.
Risk factors for chronic bronchitis
Chronic bronchitis can affect men and women of all ages, but it tends to be more common in middle-aged men. The following factors also increase the risk of being affected by chronic bronchitis:
- Cigarette smoke– The most common and important factor for the development of chronic bronchitis is cigarette smoke.
- Pollution– Non-smokers who are exposed to heavy pollution may develop chronic bronchitis occasionally.
- Family history– There is some role of family history in the development of chronic bronchitis and COPD.
- Airway infections– Although infection is not considered to be responsible for the initiation of chronic bronchitis, it is an important factor in maintaining the disease and causing exacerbations.
Symptoms of chronic bronchitis
For either acute or chronic bronchitis, the signs and symptoms may include the following:
- Chest discomfort
- Production of mucus (sputum) that can be clear, green, white, or yellowish-gray in color. Rarely the sputum may be streaked with blood
- Slight fever and chills
- Shortness of breath
Chronic bronchitis is clinically defined as a cough productive of sputum for at least 3 months a year over 2 consecutive years. For an individual suffering from chronic bronchitis, he or she is likely to have periods when a cough and the other symptoms may worsen, which would mean he or she has an acute infection on top of chronic bronchitis.
How is chronic bronchitis diagnosed?
The doctor may perform a number of tests to confirm the diagnosis of chronic bronchitis and to detect the associated limitation of the airway. Chronic bronchitis treatment centers may also conduct tests. These tests may include:
- Blood tests
- Chest X-ray
- Pulmonary/Lung function tests
- Blood gases
- High-resolution CT
Chronic bronchitis must be treated if there is airway limitation present. The course of treatment follows the same general principals as the treatment for COPD. Majority of the treatments only control and improve the symptoms of chronic bronchitis.
Only cessation of smoking and oxygen therapy (for those in an advanced stage of the condition) can actually alter the course of the disease. Quitting smoking is the best option as regardless of the stage and severity of the disease, stopping smoking can slow down the rate of progression of the disease and prolong the life of the patient.
Some of the other treatments offered at chronic bronchitis treatment centers include:
- Drug therapy– Drugs should be relied on for tackling acute bronchitis and for long-term suppression of its symptoms. Bronchodilators and corticosteroids are used through puffers or nebulizers for controlling the symptoms. Moreover, antibiotics can be consumed for the exacerbations of the bronchitis disease in its all stages. These days, doctors also prescribe some stipulated agents to reduce the inflammation and thickness of the sputum.
- Pulmonary rehabilitation– It is nothing but a chest physiotherapy that is given by the doctors to remove the secretions in the airways. These rehabilitation programs have proven to assist sputum removal and to improve the quality of life of the patients. They are also helpful in relieving the symptoms of the disease.
- Oxygen therapy– If patients with chronic bronchitis have severe airflow limitations, they may require oxygen therapy. This therapy can be administered through nasal prongs or masks. This treatment may sometimes be given for even 19 hours per day when needed.
- Other– Other treatment options include vaccinations and diuretics. It is important to have a yearly influenza and pneumococcal vaccine. These vaccines help in reducing the effective exacerbations from these agents. If an individual’s chronic bronchitis is complicated by right heart failure, he or she may be treated with the help of tablets to get rid of excess fluid.