Bronchitis is a lung disorder with a mortality rate per 100,000 population of around 0.1. The inflammation of the airways is due to the accumulation of thick mucous and constriction of the bronchial lining. Coughing with mucus, chest tightness, and shortness of breath are common symptoms. Several external risk factors, such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, poor quality of life, irritant exposure, etc., cause bronchitis.
Acute bronchitis usually lasts a short duration, and the chances of a cure are more than chronic bronchitis, characterized by persistent inflammation and cough for at least three months in two consecutive years. They may require ongoing management and lifestyle modifications.
Explore this article to learn more about bronchitis.
What is Bronchitis?
In bronchitis, the mucus accumulates and constricts the bronchial walls, resulting in airway inflammation.
Bronchitis presents with symptoms such as shortness of breath, fever, and coughing up mucous; therefore, sometimes, it may be confused with other medical conditions like the common cold, pneumonia, a chest infection, asthma (sometimes), etc.
Quality of life is an essential risk factor that may lead to the development of bronchitis. According to studies, bronchitis is more likely to affect men than women. Irrespective of age and gender, smokers are more susceptible than non-smokers or previous smokers.
Undoubtedly, you’ve dealt with colds yourself many times in your life. Perhaps you know someone with pneumonia. Bronchitis falls between the two and can be more severe than the common cold but not as dangerous as pneumonia.
Symptoms of Bronchitis
A cough is usually the first symptom. In addition to mild fever, breathing difficulties, chest pressure, wheezing, and soft body aches, there is often mucus production. Several factors can cause these symptoms, including bacterial infections, pneumonia, allergies, and chemical exposure.
Primary Symptoms of Bronchitis
- Cough, usually with mucus
- Difficulty breathing
- Mild fever
- Tightness or pressure in the chest
- Pain in the body
Causes of Bronchitis
The three leading causes of bronchitis are:
Other causes of bronchitis include
- Environmental factors
- Occupational exposure
- Weak immune system
Adenovirus, rhinovirus (the common cold), influenza (the flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and Coronavirus are among the viruses that can cause bronchitis. Viruses can cause varying degrees of illness and symptoms. Depending on the viral load, the results can vary widely. It also depends on your immune system’s condition. Transplant recipients and people taking immunosuppressive drugs are particularly vulnerable. Chronic illnesses such as diabetes, asthma, or COPD, and pregnant women are at higher risk for bronchitis. Bronchitis can even affect people with acid reflux.
Bronchitis by bacteria is rare. According to the American Lung Association, Streptococcus pneumonia (the same bacteria that causes strep throat), Haemophilus influenza, and Moraxella catarrhalis are the potential causes.
It is also possible to contract other bacteria that may cause bronchitis, such as Mycoplasma pneumonia, Chlamydia pneumonia (which is not the same bacterium that causes the sexually transmitted infection), and Bordetella pertussis (that can also cause whooping cough).
According to the American Lung Association, the most common cause of bacterial bronchitis is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It is also more likely to occur among older adults, young children, and people with other underlying health conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, asthma, and smokers. There is no apparent difference between bacterial and viral bronchitis, particularly influenza-induced bronchitis.
Even though smokers are more likely to contract bronchitis due to damage to their respiratory systems, cigarette smoke and other irritants such as fumes and fragrances do not cause it. The damage to smokers’ first layer of protection, i.e., the respiratory system, makes them more susceptible to bacteria and viruses.
The cause of Fungal bronchitis, also known as bronchomycosis or fungal respiratory infection, is fungal organisms in the lungs’ bronchial tubes. It is relatively rare in comparison to other respiratory diseases, such as bacterial or viral bronchitis.
Various types of fungi can cause Fungal bronchitis, including Aspergillus species, Candida species, and Histoplasma capsulatum. These fungi, such as soil or decaying organic matter, are typically found in the environment, and their spores can enter the lungs via inhalation.
The symptoms of fungal bronchitis can vary depending on the specific fungal species and the individual’s immune system.
Environmental Factors Leading to Bronchitis
Exposure to certain environmental factors can contribute to the development of bronchitis. These include:
Active smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke is a significant risk factor for bronchitis. The harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke irritate the airways, leading to inflammation and increased susceptibility to respiratory infections.
Inhalation of polluted air, such as from industrial emissions, vehicle exhaust, or other sources of environmental pollution, can irritate the bronchial tubes and trigger bronchitis.
Exposure to chemical fumes, such as those found in certain cleaning products, paint, or solvents, can irritate the airways and contribute to bronchitis.
Dust and Allergens
Inhaling excessive dust, allergens (such as pollen, pet dander, or mold spores), or other particulate matter can cause irritation and inflammation in the bronchial tubes.
Occupational Exposures Leading to Bronchitis
Certain occupations or workplace environments can increase the risk of developing bronchitis due to exposure to specific substances or conditions. This is known as occupational bronchitis.
Some examples include:
Exposure of mining, construction, manufacturing, or agriculture workers to dust, chemical fumes, or other respiratory irritants can contribute to bronchitis.
Healthcare professionals who work in environments exposed to infectious agents or chemicals may be at higher risk of bronchitis.
Hairdressers and Beauticians
Exposure to chemicals found in hair dyes, hair sprays, and other beauty products can irritate the airways and lead to bronchitis.
Following are the other causes that can cause bronchitis:
People with allergies, especially those with allergic rhinitis or asthma, may be more prone to bronchitis. Dust mites, pet dander, pollen, and mold spores are examples of allergens that can set off an allergic reaction, inflaming the airways and raising the risk of bronchitis.
Weakened Immune System
A weakened immune system can make individuals more susceptible to infections, including bronchitis. Factors that can cut the immune system and increase the risk of bronchitis include:
Chronic conditions such as diabetes, HIV/AIDS, heart disease, or lung diseases like cystic fibrosis or bronchiectasis can compromise immune system’s ability to fight infections effectively.
The immune system naturally weakens, making older individuals more vulnerable to respiratory infections like bronchitis.
For example, immunosuppressants used in chemotherapy patients or organ transplant recipients can suppress the immune system and raise the risk of infections, including bronchitis.
There are a few risk factors that can make people more susceptible to bronchitis:
- Extensive exposure to irritants and chemicals
- Diabetes type 2
- Age 40 and older
- COPD genetics or family history
- Respiratory diseases in childhood
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Types of Bronchitis
Bronchitis is an illness that can be as mild as a cold but can be as life-threatening as lung cancer.
It is important to note that acute bronchitis presents symptoms similar to chronic bronchitis, but it is often mild and may go away within a few days. It is important to note that over-the-counter drugs help deal with acute bronchitis. Viruses most commonly cause acute bronchitis, such as:
- Adenovirus is a causative bacteria for cold-like symptoms, pneumonia, and diarrhea.
- Human parainfluenza viruses, a common cause of childhood respiratory illnesses
- Respiratory syncytial virus, a common cause of infant pneumonia and bronchiolitis
- Rhinovirus, commonly known as the cold-causing virus
- Influenza A is one of the most common causes of influenza
- The influenza B virus causes the flu as well
In addition to these viruses, some bacteria can cause acute bronchitis.
- Staphylococcus aureus
- Mycoplasma pneumonia
- Streptococcus pneumonia
- Haemophilus influenza
- Moraxella catarrhalis
- Bordetella pertussis
The bacteria listed above are more likely to cause acute bronchial infections in patients with underlying health conditions and may also cause other respiratory tract infections.
Chronic bronchitis associated with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) can occur repeatedly. Shortness of breath occurs when the alveoli are damaged, and oxygen cannot be exchanged effectively due to emphysema. Unlike emphysema, which affects the alveoli, chronic bronchitis irritates and causes bronchial tube inflammation, making breathing difficult.
As a result of the ongoing cough that can occur for several months or even years, this form of bronchitis is chronic bronchitis. Typically, the cough is productive, resulting in the release of mucus. Chronic bronchitis occurs when the airways experience inflammation, which produces more mucus, making breathing difficult.
Complications of Bronchitis
Acute bronchitis has many complications. Some are acute bronchitis complications, while others are chronic bronchitis complications.
Following is a collective list of both acute and chronic bronchitis complications:
- Cor pulmonale
- Secondary Infections
- Acute Exacerbation of Emphysema and COPD
- Reactive Airway Disease
Mode of Transmission of Chronic Bronchitis
Mainly, bronchitis is caused by viruses that spread quickly to people through droplets in the air through coughing, sneezing, or talking.
The mode of transmission is through contact with objects in use by others:
- kitchen utensils
And then through contact with:
Comparison Between Bronchitis and Other Respiratory Conditions
Bronchitis is a common lung disease; most of the time, it sounds like or presents like other respiratory tract illnesses; therefore, it’s crucial to know the difference between bronchitis and other medical conditions.
Bronchitis vs Bronchiectasis
As far as the bronchi and bronchioles are concerned, bronchitis and bronchiectasis are two different diseases. As a result of their similar names and symptoms, people often confuse the two.
Bronchitis is severe inflammation, whereas bronchiectasis is structural destruction and exacerbated inflammation. However, bronchiectasis is an irreversible condition. As both conditions include inflammation, their signs and symptoms are often similar.
When appropriately treated, acute bronchitis is entirely reversible. Patients can even treat chronic bronchitis by quitting smoking early if they take the appropriate measures. Unfortunately, bronchiectasis is irreversible and permanent. Chronic bronchitis may already be present in some patients, resulting in bronchiectasis.
Bronchitis vs. Pneumonia
According to the American Lung Association (ALA), acute bronchitis is a sudden inflammation of the bronchial tubes and the central airways in the lungs. Once the infection has penetrated the bronchial tubes and reached the lungs, it causes respiratory failure. As a result, lung tissues become inflamed.
Viruses cause most cases of bronchitis, often the same viruses responsible for common colds and the flu. In most cases, bronchitis isn’t severe, it’s temporary, and it doesn’t permanently damage the lungs.
Alternatively, pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that causes fluid or pus to accumulate in the air sacs of the lungs.
Pneumonia is most commonly caused by bacterial infections, which can occur alone or in conjunction with viral infections. Viruses such as RSV and SARS-CoV-2 (and COVID-19) are also capable of causing pneumonia. However, such cases are often less severe than pneumonia caused by common viruses. Infections caused by fungi can also result in pneumonia, usually associated with chronic health issues or a weakened immune system.
However, a person’s age or overall health can affect the severity of pneumonia. The more significant the proportion of the lungs affected by the disease, the more seriously ill you will become.
Bronchitis vs Bronchiolitis
Bronchitis and bronchiolitis often sound the same and go hand in hand. Despite differences in presentation, both conditions share similar etiologies, investigations, and treatment principles. Both bronchiolitis and bronchitis are fundamentally different.
The inflammation of the most significant airways is bronchitis, and the inflammation of the smaller ones is bronchiolitis. Unlike bronchitis, which has obstructive features, bronchiolitis has features similar to pneumonia.
Bronchitis vs. Tuberculosis
In addition to oxygen, there are bacteria, viruses, and germs floating around in the air, which can cause various diseases of the lungs when inhaled. Many people believe that over-the-counter medications are effective in treating all coughs. Cough suppressants and decongestants can ease the common cold, but some illnesses require more than these drugs. For example, bronchitis and tuberculosis are two of these diseases. Despite appearing similar at first, these two are vastly different and require different treatments.
Viruses, bacteria, or fungal infections can cause bronchitis. In contrast, tuberculosis is an infectious disease usually caused by Mycobacterium.
Bronchitis is classified as acute or chronic, whereas tuberculosis is classified as latent or active. Both are lung diseases and have contradictory symptoms, but some are similar.
A cough lasting longer than three months and a history of frequent bouts of acute bronchitis usually indicate chronic bronchitis. The healthcare professional will take a detailed medical history. Do a physical examination and order investigations to establish a diagnosis.
Using a stethoscope, the doctor listens to your lungs to confirm the diagnosis of bronchitis. Additional tests may be ordered to determine the cause of your bronchitis or rule out other conditions.
Nasal Swab test
A soft-tipped nasal swab is inserted in the nose to test for viruses like COVID-19 and flu.
A chest X-ray is a standard diagnostic test that uses low-dose radiation to create images of the structures within the chest, including the lungs. It helps evaluate the condition of the lungs, detect abnormalities, and rule out other potential causes of respiratory symptoms. While it may not precisely diagnose bronchitis, it can reveal signs of lung infection, inflammation, or other lung conditions contributing to bronchitis symptoms.
CT Scan (Computed Tomography)
A CT scan provides more detailed cross-sectional images of the chest than a standard X-ray. It can help identify specific lung abnormalities, such as areas of inflammation or lung damage, and may be used to distinguish between acute bronchitis and other respiratory conditions. CT scans are beneficial when complications or underlying lung diseases are suspected.
A non-invasive technique called pulse oximetry is used to evaluate the blood’s oxygen saturation level. It entails applying a tiny pulse oximeter to an earlobe or finger. Low oxygen levels can suggest respiratory distress or impairment so this test can determine a person’s oxygenation status. Pulse oximetry is frequently employed to assess people with bronchitis or other respiratory disorders.
Measurement of Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide in the Blood (Arterial Blood Gas)
This test includes drawing blood from an artery to check the blood’s oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. It gives more explicit details regarding respiratory function and can be used to gauge how seriously impaired breathing is. An arterial blood gas study is used to determine the gas exchange efficiency in the lungs and ascertain whether additional therapies, such as supplemental oxygen therapy, are necessary.
Lung Function Tests (LFTs)
Lung function tests assess the performance and capacity of the lungs. These tests, such as spirometry, measure parameters like lung volume, airflow, and the ability to exhale forcefully. They can help determine the presence and severity of lung function abnormalities, such as airway obstruction or decreased lung capacity, seen in individuals with bronchitis or other respiratory conditions.
Blood Tests, Including a Complete Blood Count (CBC)
A CBC is one type of blood test that may assess general health and look for indicators of inflammation or illness. An active infection, such as bronchitis, may be indicated by the white blood cell count increase. Blood tests are frequently used with other diagnostic techniques because they cannot independently diagnose bronchitis.
Testing for Viruses or Bacteria Using Mucus or Sputum
In cases where bacterial or viral infection is suspected, a healthcare provider may collect a sample of mucus or sputum for laboratory testing. The sample can be analyzed to identify the presence of specific viruses or bacteria responsible for the infection. This information can guide treatment decisions, especially if antibiotics are deemed necessary.
Compared to only physical examinations, the doctor can diagnose more accurately after receiving the results of biochemical tests.
Lifestyle and Home Remedies for Bronchitis
Treating acute bronchitis at home using natural remedies is very much possible. Some of the bronchitis home remedies include:
Acute Bronchitis Remedies
Research indicates that ginger has an anti-inflammatory effect against respiratory infections. You can consume raw ginger or in the form of a tea or capsule. It’s best to use ginger in a natural state but do not consume ginger as a supplement.
Garlic is attributed to countless healing properties. For example, studies have shown that garlic effectively inhibited the virus causing bronchitis, making it very effective in getting rid of bronchitis. Fresh or raw garlic is best, but you may consume a supplement. However, if you have a bleeding disorder, use it with caution.
Turmeric is a spice with antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties that make it helpful in fighting bronchitis. Additionally, turmeric also increases antioxidant activity, helping to boost your immunity.
The mucus is loosened by steam, making it easier to remove. The most convenient approach to applying this technique/method is to take a bath or a shower. Make your shower as warm as you can stand it, enter, and take a few deep breaths through your mouth and nose. Another method entails filling a bowl with hot water, putting a cloth over your head, and breathing in the steam.
Gargling using salt water may help break up mucus and alleviate pain in your throat. It adds to the bronchitis self-care and home remedies list.
Sleep helps repair and enhance immune function, so your body can fight infection or inflammation better.
Resting allows the human body to conserve energy and focus on fighting off the infection. It helps reduce stress on the respiratory system and promotes healing.
8. Honey and lemons
A honey, lemon, or tea mixture may help soothe dry coughs and sore throats.
Pineapple contains anti-inflammatory bromelain, which can help expel mucus from bronchitis or other respiratory infections.
10. Take OTC medications
Over-the-counter cough medications are divided into suppressants that reduce coughing, and those that thin mucus to help you cough out congestion are called expectorants. Treatment depends on the type of cough that you have.
11. Saltwater Gargle
Gargling with a mixture of half a teaspoon of salt mixed in warm water can help soothe a sore throat and reduce inflammation. It can also help reduce irritation and provide temporary relief.
Chronic Bronchitis Remedies
The remedies for bronchitis symptoms, when it is prolonged, include:
1. Quit smoking
Quitting smoking is crucial for managing chronic bronchitis. Smoking damages the airways and worsens symptoms. Quitting smoking can help slow down the progression of the disease, reduce coughing and wheezing, and improve overall lung health.
2. Breathing Exercises
Deep breathing exercises like diaphragmatic and pursed-lip breathing can help improve lung function and control breathlessness. These exercises help strengthen the respiratory muscles and improve the efficiency of breathing.
3. Regular Exercise
Engaging in regular physical activity can improve lung capacity and overall respiratory health. Exercise helps strengthen the lungs, increases cardiovascular fitness, and enhances the body’s ability to use oxygen efficiently. Consult a healthcare professional for guidance on suitable exercise programs for your condition.
4. Maintain Indoor Air Quality
Keeping your home clean and well-ventilated is essential for managing chronic bronchitis. Minimize exposure to environmental irritants such as dust, pet dander, strong chemicals, and air pollution. Use air purifiers and proper ventilation to improve indoor air quality.
5. Stay Hydrated
The mucus is diluted, and dehydration is avoided, which can exacerbate symptoms. It also keeps the airways wet, facilitating phlegm and acting as a remedy for bronchitis coughing. Unless your doctor advises otherwise, drink at least seven to eight glasses of water daily.
6. Avoid Triggers
Determine your symptoms’ triggers, and stay away from them. Air pollution, overpowering odors, allergens like pollen or mold, or respiratory irritants like smoke or chemical fumes are just a few of the triggers that might differ from person to person. Symptoms can be decreased, and exacerbations can be avoided by limiting exposure to these causes.
Lifestyle Modifications for Bronchitis Management
It can help you prevent illness and recover quickly as well. The following changes may help expedite your recovery:
- Quitting smoke and avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke
- Avoid visiting areas where pollution is high
- Wear a surgical mask
- Take a healthy diet
- Wash your hands frequently
- Use a humidifier
Therapies and Procedures
These therapies and treatments target chronic bronchitis that develops over time after long-term exposure to irritants that damage the bronchial tubes’ lining. This damage leads to too much production of mucus,
Some therapies that may help treat chronic bronchitis include:
- Bronchodilators that help open your airway
- Medications that decrease mucus production
- Pursed-lip breathing
- Breathing exercises
- Breathing treatments
Treatment for Bronchitis
Bronchitis can be treated in two ways, based on whether it is acute or chronic. Treatment for acute bronchitis usually doesn’t need to be done. Antibiotics are recommended when bacteria cause bronchitis. Rather than treating your symptoms with medications, acute bronchitis is treated with the following:
- Mucus loosening and expulsion medications are available over-the-counter
- Vaporizers or humidifiers that produce cold mist
- NSAIDs like ibuprofen to reduce inflammation and pain
You may be wondering about the best medicine to treat bronchitis. Well, there is no specific medication. The treatment of bronchitis depends on whether it is acute or chronic and whether a viral or bacterial infection causes it. Here are some common drugs used in the treatment of bronchitis:
Analgesics and Fever Reducers
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) are examples of over-the-counter painkillers that can help relieve pain, lower fever, and ease discomfort brought on by bronchitis.
You may be worried about how to get rid of bronchitis cough. Cough suppressants, such as dextromethorphan, can suppress the urge to cough, mainly when the cough is persistent and interferes with sleep or daily activities. However, it’s important to note that coughing plays a role in clearing mucus from the airways, so cough suppressants should be used cautiously and only as directed.
Guaifenesin and other expectorants help thin and loosen mucus, which makes it simpler to cough up and clear from the airways. This may help clear up chest congestion and encourage productive coughing.
Bronchodilators are medications that help relax and widen the airways, making breathing easier. They are usually used in the treatment of chronic bronchitis or acute bronchitis with underlying asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Bronchodilators can be administered through inhalers or nebulizers and may include short-acting beta-agonists (SABAs) or long-acting beta-agonists (LABAs).
In a few cases, corticosteroids can be prescribed to reduce inflammation in the airways and alleviate symptoms. They are typically used for severe acute bronchitis or chronic bronchitis exacerbations. Corticosteroids can be taken orally or inhaled using an inhaler or nebulizer.
Antibiotics are only prescribed when a bacterial infection is suspected or confirmed. They are ineffective against viral infections, the most common cause of bronchitis. Antibiotics should be used judiciously to prevent antibiotic resistance. If prescribed, it’s crucial to complete the entire course of antibiotics as directed by the healthcare provider.
Risk factors can be reduced and triggers avoided to prevent flare-ups of chronic bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis can be treated by quitting smoking. Other treatments may provide relief, such as
- The use of oxygen as a therapy
- Breathing exercises
- Pulmonary rehabilitation therapy
Chronic bronchitis cannot be cured but managed with the proper diagnosis and treatment. Quitting smoking can help prevent exacerbations and further lung damage.
Avoiding getting sick from viruses helps reduce the risk of bronchitis. Some ways to reduce your risk include:
- Avoid being around people if they are sick. Avoid closed or indoor gatherings
- Avoid smoking
- Use a humidifier
- Get plenty of rest
- Eat a healthy diet
- Avoid any triggers, such as dust and pollen, if you are asthmatic or prone to allergies.
- Wash your hands frequently or use a hand sanitizer
- Make sure your vaccination for flu and pneumonia is up-to-date
When Should I Consult a Doctor for Bronchitis?
If you have any symptoms of bronchitis that have persisted for so long, you should consult a doctor as soon as possible. A doctor may address symptoms or complications of acute or chronic bronchitis.
In the following cases, you should seek medical attention:
- Coughing up bloody mucus
- Breathing difficulties or shortness of breath
- Temperatures above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit
- Over three-week-long symptoms
- The occurrence of frequent episodes of bronchitis
Your Doctors Online have a doctors team that is always here to treat the best they can. Our doctors can help you get rid of bronchitis and underlying illness immediately.
FAQs About Bronchitis Answered By Your Doctor Online Team.
A clear or white mucus usually indicates a viral infection, while yellow or green mucus indicates a bacterial infection.
The best medicine for bronchitis is usually a combination of medications and antibiotics. Doxycycline and amoxicillin are effective antibiotics for treating bronchitis.
Once the infection clears up, acute bronchitis resolves on its own. However, chronic bronchitis can’t be cured and is managed with lifelong treatments and lifestyle changes.
When the airways are inflamed, your immune system causes them to fill with mucus. To clear the mucus out, the body initiates a cough reflex to eliminate the mucus.
Bronchitis is not contagious, but the viruses or bacteria that can cause it are. If you have the flu, you may develop bronchitis, too, but that doesn’t mean everyone does.
If it is due to viral infection, you can be contagious for several days to a week. However, if the cause is bacterial, you are not infectious after 24 hours of antibiotic.
To help bronchitis go away faster, stay hydrated, and take OTC medicines like cough suppressants or prescribed antibiotics. However, bronchitis is a self-limiting condition, and complete recovery may take time.
Acute bronchitis from a viral infection usually takes 1 to 2 weeks. In the case of chronic bronchitis, it can take much longer.
Common over-the-counter cough suppressants include dextromethorphan (DM) and codeine. It is available in various forms, such as syrups, tablets, and capsules.