What is Bronchitis?
Bronchitis is an inflammation of the main air passages (bronchi) to the lungs. Coughing often brings up yellow or greenish mucus. There are two main types of bronchitis: acute and chronic. Acute bronchitis, often caused by the same viruses that cause colds, usually starts as a sore throat, runny nose or sinus infection, then spreads to your airways. It can cause a lingering dry cough, but it usually goes away on its own. In chronic bronchitis, a type of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), the inflamed bronchi produce a lot of mucus, leading to cough and difficulty getting air in and out of the lungs.
Symptoms of acute bronchitis include:
- Shortness of breath
- “Rattle” sensation in chest
- General ill feeling, or malaise
- Slight fever
- Tickle feeling in back of throat that leads to soreness
- Chest pain, soreness, and tightness in the chest
- Poor sleep
- Chills (uncommon)
Symptoms of chronic bronchitis include:
- Cough that produces mucus (sputum), which may be blood streaked
- Shortness of breath aggravated by exertion or mild activity
- Frequent respiratory infections infections that worsen symptoms
Tests to diagnose acute and chronic bronchitis include:
- Physical exam
- Pulmonary function tests
- Arterial blood gas
- Chest X-ray
- Pulse oximetry (oxygen saturation testing)
- Complete blood count (CBC)
- Exercise testing
- Chest CT scan
Treatment for Acute Bronchitis
- Antibiotics usually aren't helpful because acute bronchitis is almost always caused by a virus, which will not respond to antibiotics. Antibiotics are is usually only needed if your doctor diagnoses you with whooping cough or pneumonia.
- Medications called bronchodilators are used to open tight air passages in the lungs. Your doctor may prescribe this type of medicine if you are wheezing.
- Decongestants may also help relieve symptoms of bronchitis. Medications that loosen mucus may also be prescribed, but how well they work remains uncertain.
- Your doctor will tell you to drink more fluids to help thin mucus in the lungs, rest and soothe your airways by increasing humidity in the air with a cool mist humidifier.
Symptoms will usually go away within 7 - 14 days if you don't have chronic pulmonary disease. However, it may take much longer for the cough to go away in some people.
Treatment for Chronic Bronchitis
There is no cure for chronic bronchitis. Treatments to relieve symptoms and prevent complications include:
- Inhaled medications that dilate (widen) the airways and decrease inflammation may help reduce symptoms such as wheezing.
- Antibiotics to fight infections.
- Corticosteroids may occasionally be used during flare-ups of wheezing or in people with severe bronchitis that does not respond to other treatments.
- Oxygen therapy may be needed in severe cases.
Treatment will help symptoms, but chronic bronchitis is a long-term condition that keeps coming back or never goes away completely.
Good handwashing is one of the best ways to avoid getting viruses and other respiratory infections.
- Since flu viruses have been shown to be a major cause of bronchitis, getting a flu shot may also help prevent acute bronchitis.
- Limit exposure to cold, damp environments.
The diagnosis and treatment of Bronchitis is provided by physicians, nurses and other clinical staff in the Division of Pulmonary Medicine.