Bronchitis is an infection of the bronchi, the main airways of the lungs, and acute bronchitis is one of the most common lower respiratory tract infections.
The walls of the bronchi make mucus to trap inhaled particles that could cause irritation, so when the bronchi become irritated and inflamed they produce more of the yellow-grey mucus than usual, which the hacking cough tries to shift. Bronchitis can also cause a sore throat, wheezing and a blocked nose.
The symptoms of bronchitis can be similar to those of pneumonia, so it is important to look out for any worsening of them. Your cough may last for several weeks after other symptoms have gone, and you may find the persistent coughing makes your chest and stomach muscles sore.
The symptoms of chronic bronchitis tend to be worse in the winter and your bronchitis may regularly flare up a couple of times a year. If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), exercising or moving around may make you breathless. Read more about COPD
If your symptoms suggest a lung infection, a doctor can detect the mucus in your lungs through a stethoscope, then other conditions with similar symptoms, such as pneumonia, will have to be ruled out to make a clear diagnosis. You may need a chest X-ray and a sputum test. Read More
If an undiagnosed condition, such as asthma or emphysema is suspected a pulmonary function test, using a device called a spirometer, may be the next step.
Most acute cases of bronchitis can be treated easily at home and clear up within a few weeks without the need for medical intervention – drink lots of fluid to help thin the mucus in your lungs, avoid smoking and smoky environments and get plenty of rest. Your sleep patterns should return to normal when the symptoms and the cough go. Read more
As bronchitis is nearly always caused by a virus, antibiotics will have no effect, but they may be prescribed if you have an increased risk of developing complications such as pneumonia.
Healthy living and avoiding the triggers that you know exacerbate your condition are important. In particular, if you smoke you should stop. Smoking is the most common cause of chronic bronchitis, so once again, it’s important to avoid smoking and smoky environments as these can make your symptoms worse. Over time, tobacco smoke will cause permanent damage to the bronchi.
Chronic bronchitis is treated in the same way as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Read more about COPD
It is important that everyone with a long-term condition such as asthma should have a yearly jab each autumn to protect against flu, as well as a one-off vaccination to protect against the serious chest infection pneumococcal pneumonia.
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