Bronchitis & Its Treatment

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What is bronchitis (chest cold)?
Bronchitis occurs when the airways in your lungs are inflamed and make too much mucus. There are two basic types of bronchitis:


  • Acute bronchitis is more common and usually is caused by a viral infection. Acute bronchitis may also be called a chest cold. Episodes of acute bronchitis can be related to and made worse by smoking. This type of bronchitis is often described as being worse than a regular cold but not as bad as pneumonia.

  • Chronic bronchitis is a cough that persists for two to three months each year for at least two years. Smoking is the most common cause of chronic bronchitis.

What Are the Symptoms of Bronchitis?


Symptoms of bronchitis include the following:
  • A cough that is frequent and produces mucus

  • A lack of energy

  • A wheezing sound when breathing, which may or may not be present

  • A fever, which may or may not be present
Should I Call My Doctor About Bronchitis?


See your health care provider if you have any of these symptoms:
  • A chest cold that lasts for more than two weeks

  • A fever greater than 102°F

  • A cough that produced blood

  • A shortness of breath or wheezing

Can I Treat Bronchitis at Home?


If you have bronchitis you should do the following:
  • Drink fluids every one to two hours unless your doctor has restricted your fluid intake

  • Rest

  • Don't smoke

  • Relieve body aches by taking aspirin or acetaminophen. (If you are taking any other drugs, talk to your doctor to make sure aspirin or acetaminophen doesn't interfere with them. Children should NOT take aspirin.)

  • Follow your doctor's instructions on ways to help clear your mucus.

  • If you are coughing up mucus, note how often you cough as well as the color and amount of the mucus. Report this to your doctor.
If you have a dry cough and cough up little to no mucus, your doctor may prescribe a cough medicine to suppress your cough. He or she may also prescribe an expectorant to help loosen mucus so it can be more easily coughed up.
Because most episodes of bronchitis are caused by viruses, antibiotics will not be useful or necessary. Exceptions would be bronchitis caused by a bacterial infection or bronchitis in a person who has impaired lung function.



How Can I Reduce the Risk of Getting Bronchitis (chest cold)?


  • Don't smoke.

  • Don't allow others to smoke in your home.

  • Stay away from or reduce your time around things that irritate your nose, throat, and lungs, such as dust or pets.

  • If you catch a cold, get plenty of rest.

  • Take your medicine exactly the way your doctor tells you.

  • Eat a healthy diet.

  • Wash your hands often.

  • Do not share food, cups, glasses, or eating utensils.
How Do I Know if I Have It?


Tests are usually unnecessary in the case of acute bronchitis, as the disease is easy to detect from your medical history and on examination. Your doctor will simply use a stethoscope to listen for the rattling sound in your lungs' upper airways that typically accompanies the problem.
In cases of chronic bronchitis, the doctor will almost certainly augment these procedures with an X-ray of your chest to check the extent of the lung damage, as well as with pulmonary function tests to measure how well your lungs are working.



What Are the Treatments?


Conventional treatment for acute bronchitis may consist of simple measures such as getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of fluids, avoiding smoke and fumes, and possibly getting a prescription for an inhaled bronchodilator and/or cough syrup. In severe cases of chronic bronchitis, inhaled or oral steroids to reduce inflammation and/or supplemental oxygen may be necessary. Alternative choices, by and large, help relieve the accompanying discomfort but do not treat infections.
Conventional Medicine
In healthy people who have normal lungs and no chronic health problems, antibiotics are not necessary, even when the infection is bacterial. The productive (phlegm-producing) coughing that comes with acute bronchitis is to be expected and, in most cases, encouraged; coughing is your body's way of getting rid of excess mucus. However, if your cough is truly disruptive -- that is, it keeps you from sleeping or is so violent it becomes painful -- or nonproductive (dry and raspy sounding), your doctor may prescribe a cough suppressant. In most cases, you should simply do all the things you usually would do for a cold: Take or acetaminophen for discomfort and drink lots of liquids.
If you have chronic bronchitis, your lungs are vulnerable to infections. Unless your doctor counsels against it, get a yearly flu shot as well as a vaccination against pneumonia. The pneumonia vaccine is typically a one-shot procedure: One vaccination will protect many for life against the common strains of the disease. Occasionally a second or booster shot is required.
Do not take an over-the-counter cough suppressant to treat chronic bronchitis unless your doctor directs you to do so. As with acute bronchitis, the productive coughing associated with chronic bronchitis is helpful in ridding the lungs of excess mucus. In fact, your doctor may even prescribe an expectorant if your cough is relatively dry. However, if you notice any changes in the color, volume, or thickness of the phlegm, you may be coming down with an infection. In that case, your physician may prescribe a 5 to 10-day course of broad-spectrum antibiotics, which fight a range of bacteria. If you are overweight, your doctor may insist that you diet to avoid putting excessive strain on your heart. If you have COPD (as demonstrated by an abnormal spirometry breathing test), many doctors also prescribe an anticholinergic bronchodilator, drugs that temporarily help dilate the lungs' constricted airways. However, the most important and most successful treatment for chronic bronchitis and COPD is smoking cessation. Your doctor may also prescribe steroids to reduce inflammation in the airways.
In severe cases of chronic bronchitis with COPD, if your body's ability to transfer oxygen from your lungs into the bloodstream is significantly handicapped, your doctor may prescribe oxygen therapy, either on a continuous or on an as-needed basis. Oxygen-delivering devices are widely available. If you use an oxygen tank at home, be sure to take special care not to expose the apparatus to flammable materials (alcohol and aerosol sprays, for example) or to sources of direct heat, such as hair dryers or radiators.
If you smoke, your doctor will urge you to quit. Studies show that people who kick the habit even in the advanced stages of chronic bronchitis and COPD not only can reduce the severity of their symptoms but also can increase their life expectancy.
At-Home Remedies
For acute bronchitis
During the acute phase of your illness when you are experiencing fever, shortness of breath, or wheezing, stay at home, keep warm, and drink plenty of fluids. You don't necessarily need to stay in bed, but don't overextend yourself. Consider using a vaporizer, or try inhaling steam over a sink full of hot water.
For chronic bronchitis
Avoid exposure to paint or exhaust fumes, dust, and people with colds. Consider using a vaporizer or inhaling steam over a sink full of hot water. Dress warmly in cold, dry weather. Get help to quit smoking
 
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