“I got bronchitis”? Well, chronic bronchitis is a swelling of the bronchial tubes, and you got time for that. Symptoms, causes, and treatment.
Respiratory diseases are one of the most common causes of illness all over the world. One of them is bronchitis, acute, and chronic. Chronic bronchitis alone affects around 20% of the world population. The first risk factor for developing chronic bronchitis is smoking. With 20% of the world’s population smoking cigarettes, it’s not a surprise that chronic bronchitis is that common.
In the following article, a doctor will simply explain everything you need to know about bronchitis. We’ll focus on the most frequently asked questions from what exactly is bronchitis, to its causes, symptoms, and treatment. We’ll focus specifically on chronic bronchitis, so keep reading to find all the information you need.
What is chronic bronchitis?
First, you’ll need to know what a bronchus is. Bronchi are the airways that conduct the air to our lungs. We have the main bronchi that come directly from the trachea or windpipe and then divide into smaller bronchi. The inside of bronchial tubes is made of a mucous layer, which produces mucus to protect the airway.
Bronchitis essentially is the inflammation of bronchi. This swelling may be the consequence of viral or bacterial infection. Some lung irritants like smoke and pollution can cause bronchitis.
When you have bronchitis, the mucus production in the bronchi increases. The wall of the bronchial tube becomes thicker, and the passage of air becomes thinner. This can make it difficult for the air to get through the lungs. It also causes symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, among others.
Notably, bronchitis can be acute or chronic. Respiratory infections mostly cause acute bronchitis. Even a common cold can cause acute bronchitis. In these cases, bronchitis usually resolves on its own and doesn’t leave any sequels.
Bronchitis is considered chronic when a productive cough lasts more than three months per year for at least two years.
What happens within the body when a person develops bronchitis?
Remember that bronchi are, simply put, the tubes that get air to your lungs. On the inside, they have a lining, the mucous membrane. This lining produces a small amount of mucus.
There are also little structures called cilia in this lining, little moving “hairs” that keep the mucus moving. This mucus and the cilia help protect your lungs by taking out strange particles, viruses, and bacteria.
When a person develops bronchitis, an inflammatory reaction occurs. This increases mucus production, which builds up and makes it difficult for the air to pass. In the case of chronic bronchitis, this inflammatory reaction occurs repeatedly. This increases the mucus build up more and more every time.
The mucus buildup, along with cilia damage, provides an environment where viruses and bacteria get stuck. This results in recurrent infections and more inflammation. Sadly, the final consequence of this is the difficulty for the air to pass to the lungs.
Chronic bronchitis is a risk factor for developing other conditions like pneumonia, an infection of the lungs. Another condition in association with this ailment is emphysema.
Emphysema is a lung disease in which alveoli (little bags that get the oxygen to your blood) are destroyed. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a condition in which chronic bronchitis and emphysema combine.
Chronic bronchitis symptoms, causes, treatment & is it contagious?
Usually, in chronic bronchitis, the symptoms start gradually. The curse of the disease is progressive; this results in patients getting medical attention really late.
The most important symptoms include productive persistent cough (with sputum), difficult breathing, and wheezing. The sputum is usually colorless. It also presents with chest pain and breathlessness.
In the event of infectious exacerbations, the cough can worsen to whooping cough. These exacerbations also present themselves with fever and increased sputum production. There are other, more serious symptoms in this disease that we’ll discuss later.
The causes for the acute and chronic forms of the disease are different. In the case of acute bronchitis, it is mostly caused by infectious agents. Viral bronchitis is the most common form of acute bronchitis. However, it may still be the result of exposure to irritants like smoke, dust, and other pollutants. Bacterial bronchitis is a lot less common, but it is also a possibility. Acute bronchitis can start off as flu, with symptoms like coughing, runny nose, sore throat, and fever.
The cause for chronic bronchitis, in most of the cases, is smoking. This includes cigarette smoking and also cannabis smoking. Even people who do not smoke but are exposed to tobacco smoke are at risk of developing it.
Secondhand smoke is as bad as the smoke directly from a cigarette. Besides, exposure to some kinds of pollution and occupational smoke can cause chronic bronchitis too. Therefore, people working at coal mining, textile manufacturers, and metal molding can develop this disease later in life.
Is it contagious?
No, it is not contagious. The only thing contagious about bronchitis is the viruses that cause acute bronchitis. Remember, acute bronchitis is almost always viral bronchitis. These viruses usually spread through respiratory droplets when a person sneezes, coughs, or speaks.
How is chronic bronchitis diagnosed?
A doctor can only diagnose it after a series of tests. First, your doctor will ask about exposure to lung irritants, smoking habits, and medical history. Then, they will perform a physical examination. With the help of a stethoscope, your doctor will hear your respiratory sounds. At this point, they can find wheezing and other signs of obstruction.
Next, your doctor will request some tests. A chest X-ray is the cheapest and most straightforward way to determine if you have bronchitis. If you have productive coughing, your sputum can be examined to search for bacteria that may be causing it.
The definitive diagnosis of chronic bronchitis is made with a pulmonary function test. With this test, your doctor will see how much air flows through your airways. Finally, your doctor may want to perform a CT-scan to determine if you have emphysema (and COPD), too.
Available treatment for this condition.
The treatment for it includes many measures. First of all, stop smoking. Remember, smoke acts as an irritant for your airways. Therefore, you’ll never get rid of bronchitis if you continue to smoke.
Stop smoking is not easy, but nowadays, you have many tools that can help you. Nicotine gum and even patches have helped many people to quit smoking.
The medical treatment sometimes is a little complicated. Depending on the severity of the obstruction, you may need combined treatment. You should know that the typical cough medicine or cough suppressants won’t be effective in this case.
The treatment for this disease targets the three specific reasons for it:
- Bronchial muscle contraction: with bronchodilators, both short (like albuterol) and long-acting (like salmeterol and formoterol). There’s another group of drugs, but they inhibit the contraction of the bronchi. These are the antimuscarinics, like tiotropium and ipratropium. Usually, the combination of these drugs results in much more useful than using them on their own.
- Airway inflammation: The most effective drugs to target this are the corticosteroids. Inhaled or orally, they are really effective in stopping the inflammatory reaction and mucus production. Some of the most commonly used are fluticasone and budesonide.
- Increased mucus: As we mentioned before, corticosteroids are beneficial at decreasing mucus production.
Remember that, once you have chronic bronchitis, you are more likely to get respiratory infections. In this case, you may require antibiotic treatment. The antibiotic depends on the bacteria causing the infection.
What are the health risks associated with chronic bronchitis?
Chronic bronchitis comes with many health risks. First, if the airflow obstruction is severe, you may not be able to perform daily activities. Patients with chronic bronchitis spend most of the time with dyspnea. Dyspnea, which is the same as shortness of breath aggravates at the minimum effort.
On the other hand, chronic bronchitis is a risk factor to develop respiratory infections. These are called infectious exacerbations. As bronchitis progresses, the time between exacerbations is shorter. They can also become more severe every time.
Chronic bronchitis can also have systemic or whole-body manifestations, especially when combined with emphysema. It can cause pulmonary hypertension and heart failure. This happens because your body is not getting as much oxygen, so your heart has to work harder. Other systemic manifestations include depression, osteoporosis, loss of muscle mass, among others.
What is the difference between bronchitis and pneumonia?
You can confuse bronchitis and pneumonia because they have symptoms in common. High fever, cough with sputum, and difficult breathing can be present in both diseases.
Although they can have similar symptoms, they are very different conditions. The main difference is the affected structure. Bronchitis affects the bronchi, the airways that take air to your lungs. They become inflamed, thick, and filled with mucus.
On the other hand, pneumonia is an infection of the lung tissue, not the airway. In pneumonia, the alveoli (little bags that form them) get filled with liquid or pus.
Another difference is the cause of each disease. In bronchitis, the main causes are viruses and exposure to irritants. Bronchitis is rarely bacterial. On its side, pneumonia is often caused by bacteria, many times more than viruses.
Since the reasons are different, the treatment is different too. Bronchitis is treated with bronchodilators and corticosteroids. Bacterial pneumonia has to be treated with antibiotics.
Taking time into account, bronchitis and pneumonia are different too. Pneumonia is an acute infection that resolves with treatment. So, unlike pneumonia, bronchitis can become a chronic condition that very often requires maintaining treatment.
Do you have symptoms and want to check yourself?
This tool is a Chronic Bronchitis Symptoms Checker. It gathers the most important signs, symptoms, and risk factors for this condition. Therefore, it would tell anybody who uses it the likelihood that their symptoms are because of this particular disease. The best of it is that it is free and would only take a few minutes.