Breathing is something that we often take for granted. Obviously, for most people, it’s effortless. With each breath we take, we deliver fresh oxygen to our lungs and then to our bloodstream, without any struggle.
However, have you ever thought- what if it wasn’t this easy?
Well, for some people, it is true. In fact, there are many conditions that can make it very difficult for one to breathe. And today, we’re going to talk about one of the most common ones- Bronchitis.
The air we usually inhale, before it reaches our lungs, goes through the windpipe and then through a network of tiny passageways called bronchial tubes. But if these bronchial tubes, due to some reason, get inflamed or irritated, it may cause some difficulty in breathing. And this condition is what we call bronchitis. Bronchitis is often accompanied by increased mucus production along with tightened muscle lining, which causes coughing, wheezing, and in many cases, chest pain.
There are two main types of Bronchitis: acute and chronic. Let’s understand the difference.
Acute Bronchitis, or a.k.a. chest cold, is a very common condition that usually develops due to a viral infection, often the same one that causes the flu or a common cold. The most common way through which these viruses spread is air (for instance, if a person coughs or sneezes in your direction). But it can also be passed from one person to another by physical contact.
In some rare cases, acute bronchitis may also be caused due to a bacterial infection. Plus, you are quite prone to this condition if you are in proximity of tobacco smoke, fumes, dust, or any other kind of air pollution.
Let’s take a look at some of the symptoms of acute bronchitis and how you can diagnose it.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
A lot of you are probably already familiar with the symptoms of acute bronchitis. But for those who don’t know, this condition often carries with itself a significant deal of:
- Light Fever
- Chest Soreness
- Sore Throat
- Watery Eyes
However, you should note that these symptoms, in the case of acute bronchitis, do not last more than a few weeks.
Now, in order to diagnose this condition, you may need to go to a qualified health care expert. And with the help of a physical exam and the description of your symptoms, he may confirm it if you have the condition or not. However, in some cases, your doctor may ask you to take a few more tests, such as chest X-ray, sputum testing, pulmonary functioning test and blood gas test, etc., to make sure it isn’t any other possible condition (such as pneumonia).
Treatment for Acute Bronchitis
If the condition is in its infant stage, acute bronchitis may not require any special medical care. However, if it has been some time now and you haven’t had any improvement, you should talk to a doctor.
As a treatment for acute bronchitis, initially, your doctor may prescribe you antibiotics. But if your condition is too severe, you may be asked to take some steroids too to reduce the inflammation of your airways. The major focus of your doctor here is to help you manage your symptoms. And for that, he may also ask you to:
- Take medicines, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, to reduce your cough, pain, and fever
- Humidify the air in your house
- Drink a lot of fluids
- Avoid smoking completely
- Avoid any foods that may increase mucus production
Chronic bronchitis, just like its acute counterpart, is a condition that is the result of the inflamed bronchial tubes. However, acute bronchitis is usually very short-lived, while the chronic one may last for a very long time. In the case of chronic bronchitis, your lungs often sound very congested and the symptoms either do not go away at all or keep coming back.
The major cause of chronic bronchitis is prolonged smoking, which can keep on irritating and inflaming your bronchial tubes constantly. However, some other environmental factors and air pollution may also have a role to play here.
You should note that sometimes, chronic bronchitis may also occur along with some other lung ailments, which include:
- Pulmonary Fibrosis
- Pulmonary Emphysema
- Upper Respiratory Infection
Symptoms and Diagnosis
The symptoms of chronic bronchitis may sometimes vary from person to person. However, the most common ones are usually the same as with acute bronchitis. These include constant coughing, increased mucus production, chest, pain, and wheezing. Along with these, you may also feel:
- Your skin, lips, and fingernails getting a little bluish due to low oxygen
- Swelling in feet
- Shortness of Breath
- Heart pumping very fast
Again, the above-given symptoms may not be visible in every single chronic bronchitis patient and may sometimes vary from person to person.
For your bronchitis condition to be called chronic, you should have a persistent cough and mucus formation for at least around three months each year, for two consecutive years. In addition to this, your health care provider will conduct a physical exam and ask you to take a few tests to confirm your condition. These additional tests may include:
- An X-ray of your chest
- Arterial Blood Gas Test
- Pulse Oximetry
- CT Scan
Treatment for Chronic Bronchitis
Just as with treatment for acute bronchitis, in the case of chronic bronchitis too, your doctor will mainly focus on managing your symptoms. And for that, the same measures are taken, which include cough and fever medications, keeping your environment humid and drinking a lot of liquids. But in addition to these, chronic bronchitis treatment may also include:
- Bronchodilators: To clean the mucus and open up your airways.
- Oxygen Therapy: To make breathing easier for you and increase the oxygen supply into your body.
- Pulmonary Rehabilitation: For a better, comfortable, and more active life.
When Should You Call Your Doctor?
Bronchitis is a very common condition, nowadays, which mostly requires you to manage your symptoms at home only. However, there might be a few instances when you may need to contact your doctor immediately. These include:
- Blood while coughing
- Difficulty in sleeping
- Condition lasting more than three weeks
- Extreme chest pain
- Thick or dark mucus
- Sudden weight loss
- Difficulty in speaking
In addition to this, if you are above 75 and have a persistent cough, you should call your doctor for a thorough checkup.
Tips to Prevent Bronchitis
With the rising level of air pollution, the number of cases of bronchitis is on a very steep rise. However, there are a few things you can do to lower your risk of developing this ailment. These are:
- Say no to smoking cigarettes.
- Stay away from things that may cause irritation in your airways, or wear a mask.
- If you have a cold, take enough rest.
- Wash your hands with soap and water very frequently.
- Eat healthy foods. Prefer an organic, wholesome diet with a good amount of vitamins and minerals.
- Keep your pneumonia and flu vaccines up to date.
If you follow the above tips with proper care, you can minimize the chances of developing not only bronchitis but many other serious respiratory ailments too.