Symptoms Of Bronchitis, Causes And Treatment

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Bronchitis is a condition that affects the lungs, and is a common one in people of all ages. The condition comes about when the passages in the lungs – essential for efficient breathing – become inflamed thanks to infection. This causes problems with breathing, and a cough is the natural reflex to the infection. Bronchitis can be quite severe and causes great discomfort, but it is generally quite easy to treat. In this article we will look at the symptoms of bronchitis, what causes bronchitis and the various methods that can be used to treat bronchitis.

Symptoms

It should be noted that bronchitis usually follows on from a cold or a case of the flu; it is considered a complication of either. The first symptoms of bronchitis will include some or all of the following:

  • Cough: dry at first and then, after a few days, possibly bringing up mucus
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • A mild fever
  • Wheezing when breathing and tightness in the chest
  • A hoarse voice

If any of these are noticed it is important that the patient gets a medical diagnosis as soon as possible, in order that the correct medication can be administered.

What Is Bronchitis?

Put simply, bronchitis is an acute inflammation of essential airways in the respiratory system, caused by an infection or irritation brought about by other illnesses. It occurs in people of all ages, and is not an uncommon complication of a severe cold. The infection inflames a thin lining that covers the airwaves, and brings about coughing as a natural reflex reaction. Patients who suffer from asthma may also contract asthmatic bronchitis, a type that exists in conjunction with asthma. It is important to understand that bronchitis is a name given to a range of symptoms – as described above – that are a product of other illnesses: bronchitis can be viral or bacterial in nature, as both can cause the necessary irritation to the airways. There are many possible causes of bronchitis, so let’s have a look at the more common ones in more detail.

Causes

As we have already mentioned bronchitis can be brought about by viral or bacterial means, and this adds to the possible causes of the condition. It can also be enhanced by some lifestyle choices, as outlined below:

  • Viruses: both the major Influenza viruses – A and B – are known to cause bronchitis
  • Bacteria: Mycoplasma pneumonia is a common bacteria known to cause bronchitis, and there are more that are also associated with the condition
  • Inhalation of fumes and dust: cigarette smoke and many chemicals can cause bronchitis
  • Smoking: a major cause of bronchitis is smoking, and people whose immune systems are weakened are also susceptible.

To summarise, there are many possible causes of bronchitis, and it is essential to find the cause of each individual case.

Is Bronchitis Contagious?

As bronchitis can be caused by both viral and bacterial infections it is essentially contagious. However, it is worth noting that bronchitis brought about by smoking or other external factors that are not bacterial or viral is not a contagious disease.

How Long Is Bronchitis Contagious?

Essentially, in the case of contagious bronchitis, it remains so for as long as the bacteria or virus responsible is active. This can be anywhere from a few days to – in more serious cases – a number of weeks. As the symptoms are not normally experienced until a few days after the patient has become infected it is possible that others around them may have contracted the condition by the time it is diagnosed.

Diagnosis

Bronchitis is a well-researched condition and, as a result, is one of the easier illnesses to diagnose. The doctor will probably carry out the following:

  • Pulse Oximetry – a way of measuring the oxygen in the blood using a non invasive sensor on the finger
  • Analysis of phlegm samples
  • Physical examination – listening to the patients breathing
  • X-Rays – these may be used if pneumonia is suspected

As an easy to spot condition, so treatment of bronchitis is also simple.

Treatment

It is a statistical fact that most cases of bronchitis are viral; this means that antibiotics will not cure the condition. A virus will, naturally, run its course in most cases, and the patient needs nothing more than treatment for the attendant symptoms – the cough, fever and cold symptoms. The patient will also be required to keep up fluid intake as dehydration can be a problem,

  • Self-Care at Home – the patient can carry out self help at home by keeping up fluid intake, resting while the virus runs its course, taking painkillers to help with the discomfort and generally taking care of themselves. Always check with a doctor before taking drugs, whether prescribed or over the counter. There are some ‘natural’ remedies that are said to help, including honey and lemon, ginger and almonds, but it is wise to consult a doctor before opting for alternative methods of treatment for bronchitis.
  • Medical Treatment – medical treatment for bronchitis may be needed if the cause is a bacterial infection; in such cases the doctor may prescribe antibiotics to combat the bacteria, and there may also be the need for an inhaler – similar to those used by asthmatics – to help the breathing. If the patient experiences complications from bronchitis that impede the breathing to a great degree they may need to spend time in hospital and receive appropriate medical treatment.

Prevention

There are ways to minimise the risk of contracting bronchitis, and the following are the most common-sense methods:

  • Stop smoking
  • Do not inhale cigarette smoke from smokers
  • Avoid air pollution
  • Keep away from known irritants

Bronchitis prevention is about keeping away from things that cause the irritation to the airways, and the above are ways to make sure you are not exposed to unnecessary risks.

Prognosis

In most cases bronchitis will simply run its course; in the case of bronchitis in smokers the recommendation is to give up. If the patient has chronic bronchitis, usually a smoking related damage to the lungs, they may need treatment for further lung conditions later in life.

How Long Does Bronchitis Last?

Acute bronchitis – that brought about by a virus or bacteria – may last anything from a few days to a couple of weeks. The virus has a limited life and will be inactive before long, while bacteria that are treated correctly will soon be eliminated.

Is Bronchitis Contagious When You Are Taking Antibiotics?

If you are suffering from acute bronchitis brought about by a virus then antibiotics will be worthless: antibiotics simply do not kill viruses, hence risk of contagion is strong. If you are taking antibiotics for a bacterial case of bronchitis then it will be contagious until the bacteria has been eliminated. In cases where smoking or air pollution is the cause, bronchitis is not contagious.

We hope that this article has helped you to understand more about bronchitis, what it is and how to recognise the symptoms, as well as guiding you through the diagnosis and treatment methods.

Written By Jackson Parks

Dr Jackson Parks, MD, is a world-renowned specialist in the treatment and diagnostics of tuberculosis, other diseases and disorders of the respiratory system. He has worked across the world in many research units, having gained a degree in pathology and at University College, London, in the UK. His work since then has been mainly in the USA where he is a leading lecturer on treatment and diagnosis of popular bacterial and respiratory system diseases.

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