What is bronchitis?
Bronchitis describes inflammation of the air passages within the lungs. It occurs when the trachea (windpipe) and the large and small bronchi (airways) within the lungs become inflamed because of infection or irritation from other causes.
People who have bronchitis often have a cough that brings up mucus. Mucus is a slimy substance made by the lining of the bronchial tubes. Bronchitis also may cause wheezing (a whistling or squeaky sound when you breathe), chest pain or discomfort, a low-grade fever, and shortness of breath.
What are the two types of bronchitis?
The two main types of bronchitis are acute (short term) and chronic (ongoing).
Acute bronchitis lasts up to 10 days. However, coughing may last for several weeks after the infection has resolved.
Chronic bronchitis is bronchitis that lasts for more than 3 months, and is an ongoing, serious condition. It occurs if the lining of the bronchial tubes is constantly irritated and inflamed, causing a long-term cough with mucus.
Bacteria, viruses, and chemicals may cause acute bronchitis.
The most common cause of acute bronchitis is usually a viral infection, such as the common cold (also referred to as an upper respiratory infection). Bacteria, funguses, and chemicals (irritants such as smoke, dust, and fumes) also may cause acute bronchitis.
_______________ is usually the cause of chronic bronchitis.
The main cause of chronic bronchitis is tobacco use, specifically, cigarette smoke. Other less common causes of chronic bronchitis include lung irritants, such as chemical fumes, dust, and other substances.
Chronic bronchitis is defined as a daily cough with sputum production for at least 3 months, 2 years in a row. Chronic bronchitis is a diagnosis usually made based on clinical findings of a long-term persistent cough usually associated with tobacco abuse.
Bronchitis is contagious.
Bronchitis describes a group of symptoms (including airway inflammation, over-production of mucous, and cough), which can have various causes:
- If the cause of the bronchitis is viral or bacterial, it can be contagious.
- If the cause of the bronchitis is due to smoking, air pollution, or other inhaled irritants, it is not contagious.
If you have bronchitis, it is most important to...
If you have bronchitis, it is important to drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. Hydration keeps secretions into the bronchial tubes more liquid-like and easier to expel.
If a fever is present, it is important to treat the fever with acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Conventional treatment for acute bronchitis may consist of simple measures such as getting plenty of rest, and possibly a prescription for an inhaled bronchodilator and/or cough syrup. In some cases of chronic bronchitis, oral steroids to reduce inflammation and/or supplemental oxygen may be necessary.
Acute bronchitis is often referred to as...
When a person catches a cold, it often turns into bronchitis, which is sometimes referred to as a chest cold.
Cough is a common cold symptom, and is almost always seen with bronchitis. Coughing is the body's way of getting rid of phlegm or mucus.
If a cough persists after the cold has resolved, if you are coughing up thick green or yellow phlegm, if you are wheezing, running a fever higher than 101 F (38.3 C), having night sweats, or coughing up blood, see a doctor as these may be symptoms and signs of a more serious illness.
Most people expect doctors to prescribe antibiotics for bronchitis.
Once diagnosed with bronchitis, people usually expect doctors to prescribe antibiotics as a course of treatment. However, most cases of acute bronchitis are caused by viruses, and antibiotics do not treat viral infections.
Since acute bronchitis almost always resolves on its own, only take antibiotics for acute bronchitis if they are prescribed by a health care professional. Taking antibiotics when they are not necessary may contribute to antibiotic resistance.
If a health care professional diagnoses another type of respiratory infection such as pneumonia or whooping cough (pertussis), antibiotics will most likely be prescribed.
Acute bronchitis may be prevented in many people.
You may prevent contracting bronchitis if you:
- Don't smoke
- Don't allow others to smoke in your home
- Stay away from or reduce your time around things that irritate your nose, throat, and lungs, such as dust or pets
- If you catch a cold, get plenty of rest
- Take your medicine exactly the way your doctor has prescribed
- Eat a healthy diet
- Wash your hands often
- Do not share food, cups, glasses, or eating utensils
- Keep you and your children up to date with recommended immunizations
Images provided by:
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What is Bronchitis?
American Academy of Family Physicians. Chronic bronchitis.
Medline Plus. Acute Bronchitis Topic Page.
Medline Plus. Chronic Bronchitis Topic Page.
CDC. Acute Cough Illness (Acute Bronchitis).
CDC. Bronchitis (Chest Cold).
This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information:
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the MedicineNet Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
© 1996-2019 MedicineNet, Inc. All rights reserved.