For people who have bronchitis, they have an inflammation of their respiratory tract, particularly focusing on their bronchial tubes. Your bronchial tubes are the part of the respiratory system that brings air to your lungs and allows for air to leave your lungs. People typically experience a cough with bronchitis, and they may find themselves coughing up thick mucus. Bronchitis usually accompanies another illness like a cold, but you can develop one of two types.
Before we get into the two types of bronchitis you can have, we’ll touch on what it is. This will help you get a good understanding of this respiratory condition. In a healthy person, your bronchial tubes are wider, and this allows air to flow freely to and from your lungs. However, inflammation can cause the bronchial tubes to narrow because the inner lining grows thicker and swells up. In turn, this narrows the passageway for the air to flow through.
The irritation of the membranes lining your bronchial tubes prompts them to release a thick mucus to coat the bronchial walls. The only way your body can get rid of this mucus is to repeatedly cough. This is why you cough up the phlegm that can vary in color. Your body is trying to make it easier for you to breathe.
Additionally, many people report that they have a heaviness in their chest that makes it seem like there’s a pressure that stops them from drawing a deep breath. This is the inflammation and mucus combining, and you are struggling to get air in and out of your lungs because you’re forcing it through a narrower passage.
The most common type of bronchitis is acute bronchitis, and this usually starts to appear three to four days after you get over a cold. It typically starts with a very dry and irritating cough, and it’ll slowly change to bringing up mucus each time you cough. A normal bout of acute bronchitis lasts between two and three weeks before it clears up, but your cough can persist for up to a month. If you’re healthy, your lungs will return to normal when the infection goes away.
The other end of the spectrum is chronic bronchitis. People who have chronic bronchitis usually have mucus or a cough for a period of three months, and more than two years in a row. If this happens, your bronchial tubes could be a breeding ground for bacterial infections, and you’ll get repeated flares because the bacteria never leave. It’s a form of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) that makes it difficult to breathe. You’ll need ongoing medications to treat the repeated flares.
Again, the bronchitis causes depend on whether or not you have acute or chronic bronchitis. People who have acute bronchitis typically get it from the same virus that gives you the common cold, or the virus that gives you the flu. Other irritants can also cause an acute onset of bronchitis, and they include things like cigarette smoke, chemicals, household cleaners, fumes, and dust. It’s more common in the winter months when people tend to stay home and shut up in their houses breathing the same air.
The single biggest cause of chronic bronchitis is smoking. The chemicals in cigarettes can very easily irritate your lungs and your bronchial tubes, and this can prompt mucus production. Another cause that is slightly less common is repeated exposure to toxic gasses and dust like you see with grain handlers and miners. Air pollution can make your symptoms even worse if you have chronic bronchitis.
No matter which type of bronchitis you have, smoking can make it more difficult for your body to recover. Every time you take a puff off a cigarette, the chemicals and smoke can damage the microscopic hairs (cilia) that line your airways and brush out any debris or contaminants. The more you smoke, the more damaged these areas will get, and the less they’ll be able to work.
There are several categories of people who are at a potentially higher risk of developing bronchitis, both acute and chronic. If the following sounds like you, and you have issues, they may be the root cause of your bronchitis. The people who are at higher risk include:
- You are or live with someone who smokes indoors.
- You live or spend a lot of time in places that have problems with air pollution.
- You work around substances that irritate the lining of your respiratory system, including coal mining or working around farm animals.
- You have a weak or compromised immune system. This is especially true for very young children or the elderly.
- You have chronic health issues like asthma, COPD, or heart disease.
For most people, realizing that they have bronchitis can be difficult because they assume that they just have a cold or a respiratory tract infection that just won’t go away. They may delay treatment or try to treat it without getting an actual diagnosis. However, the symptoms typically won’t go away on their own, and they include:
- Chest Congestion – Your chest may feel like it’s clogged or full due to the excess mucus in your bronchial tubes. People report a heaviness that makes it difficult to draw a deep breath.
- Cough– Since your airway is irritated and swollen with a lot of mucus, coughing is your body’s way to clear it out. This cough typically lasts for up to a month or more, and it usually starts out dry.
- Mucus Production – The swelling and irritation in your bronchial tubes will make your system produce mucus to try and soothe the irritation. However, you already have a narrow airway, so the mucus is going to make it worse. It can be brown, yellow, white, gray, or green.
- Shortness of Breath– Your body starts to struggle to bring more air in through the narrow airways, and you can feel like you can’t catch your breath. This shortness of breath can get worse when you lie down.
- Wheezing – Wheezing refers to a whistling sound you make every time you try to get air in. The air being forced through your restricted bronchial tubes causes this wheezing or whistling sound.
There are several ways that your doctor can diagnose bronchitis. A consultation is usually the first step, and then they move on to other methods to determine if you have bronchitis or some other form of a bacterial infection. They include:
- Blood Oxygen Levels – You’ll get a small sensor that goes on your finger. It’ll give a readout of your blood oxygen levels. This will give a good indication if you’re getting enough air in and out.
- Lung Function Testing– Your doctor will have you blow into a spirometer for a set amount of time to measure the damage to air sacs in your lungs. They use this to rule out asthma and emphysema.
- Chest X-Ray – A chest x-ray will be able to show if there is any fluid in your lungs. It’ll also show if there are any obstructions or narrowing of your bronchial tubes.
- Mucus Testing – A final test they can do is to take a sample of the mucus you cough up and test it for bacteria. This will tell them whether you have a bacterial infection or bronchitis because bronchitis is viral.
Once your doctor determines that you do have Bronchitis, they can start you on a treatment plan. It does usually go away by itself as long as bacteria aren’t the root cause of it. If it is bacteria, your doctor can prescribe antibiotics to help destroy the bacteria. For wheezing, you may get an inhaler that helps to open up your airways. Other possible treatment options include:
- Drinking Water– You want to drink at least 8 to 12 eight-ounce glasses of water every day. This will help to thin out the mucus.
- Resting – Rest will give your body the energy it needs to start the healing process.
- Using a Humidifier – A humidifier or steam can help to soothe inflammation and break up the mucus. This allows you to get rid of it more quickly, and you’ll cough less.
- Over the Counter Pain Relievers – Over the counter pain relievers can help to reduce your discomfort as you heal. Over the counter cough medicines can help to soothe your cough as well.
Bronchitis can be miserable, but Medek can help you get the diagnosis and treatment you need. Our user-friendly app allows you to connect to our team of board-certified physicians, and they can consult with you right over the phone.
You input your symptoms, and our physicians can prescribe you the correct antibiotics if you need them. We’ll send them straight to your chosen pharmacy, and you can pick them up whenever it is convenient for you. To get started, all you need do is contact us today!