Bronchitis characteristics

This article was endorsed by Rao Adeel - Doctor of Medicine from Hebei Medical University

Characteristics of bronchitis

What is bronchitis?

Bronchitis is a condition where the mucous membranes of the bronchial tree appear inflamed. The bronchial tree are the tubes that carry air into the lungs.

Because of this inflammation, people with bronchitis show such clear symptoms as cough and hard breathing. Cough is a defensive reaction of the body that is trying to expel the mucus which develops into the bronchi as a result of this swelling. This is called expectoration.

Consequently cough is good and should not be stopped unless dry cough is involved (cough win no expectoration) or in case it is too violent or it prevents patients from sleeping.

Most of the cases of bronchitis are not serious and they do not need medical assistance. Some resting at home, quitting smoking, drinking a lot of liquids, and taking an over-the-counter pain reliever will be sufficient for it to go away in 7 or 10 days.

Why does bronchitis occur?

Drawing of the respiratory system

The main cause of acute bronchitis is an infection caused by viruses.

In the case of chronic bronchitis, the main cause is tobacco or certain polluting products such as asbestos.

Inflammation of the internal tissue of the bronchial tree (bronchitis) can be due to very different causes. See the drawing to place the bronchial tree:

Respiratory infections producing bronchitis

After tobacco, infectious diseases are usually the most common cause of most cases of bronchitis, especially in children and the elderly. Microbes or germs are installed in the bronchi and reproduce by the bronchial membrane, inflaming it. The infection can reproduce and spread, producing pharyngitis, rhinitis or sore throat.

When the infection affects only the bronchi and not other parts of the airways, it is usually caused by viruses, usually the same viruses that cause colds and flu (adenovirus, rhinovirus, etc.)

Causes of bronchitis

Among the main factors that facilitate the onset of bronchitis we have the following:

  • Tobacco use: It is the main cause of chronic bronchitis and can worsen or trigger acute bronchitis. Tobacco smoke irritates bronchial tissue causing irritation and inflammation. There are many smokers who develop diseases such as COPD.
  • Respiratory infections: That may be caused by viruses or microorganisms. A poorly cured infection can cause it to spread.
  • Asthmatic bronchitis: Bronchitis caused by an asthma attack.
  • Other respiratory diseases not cared for at the time: Bronchitis can be a complication of other diseases or secondary causes that cause it, such as asthma, allergy, pertussis, diphtheria, scarlet fever and measles. It is common for children with poorly cured colds to develop chronic bronchitis or bronchiolitis (due to narrow airways).
  • Inappropriate workplace: being exposed to chemicals, fumes, gases, heating, polluting metals such as asbestos (asbestos), flour, dust, etc. They can trigger acute bronchitis or be responsible for chronic bronchitis.

Why does smoking make bronchitis worse?

smoking cigarette
Smoking facilitates and worsens bronchitis

It is worth mentioning that, although bronchitis has an infectious cause, smoking will seriously impair the progression of the disease, which may cause it to become aggravated or chronic.

The reason why tobacco is so harmful is because, being irritating, it cancels the ability of cilia to eliminate mucus from the lungs and does not allow the body itself to fight infection.

For this reason it is important to become aware and avoid smoking or minimize the number of cigarettes.

Smoking can result in the long-term known lung obstruction (COPD) and lung cancer.

Visit the doctor in that cases

However the doctor should attend you in the following situations:

  • If there is blood in the sputum.
  • If your sputum is thick green and smells badly.
  • If your body shivers.
  • If you have persistent low fever for more than 3 days.
  • If you have high fever.
  • If your chest aches.
  • If you are short of breath
  • If your cough doesn’t stop or goes back frequently.
  • If you suffer from Chronic heart illness.
  • If you suffer from Chronic lung illness

Types of bronchitis

There are two types of bronchitis:

  • Acute bronchitis: Its a momentary inflammation that appears as a result of a viral disease of the respiratory tract, mainly common cold or influenza, although it can also be produced by some bacteria. It generally lasts only some days (between 7 and 10 days) but it can take several weeks or months. However it is not recurrent. Its symptoms can be very strong.
  • Chronic bronchitis : Its a recurrent inflammation as a result of mucous membranes being harmed by some external factor, such as tobacco or inhaled toxics (tobacco, grain powder, mine dust, hair sprays, air pollution etc). To be considered Chronic bronchitis it must be recurrent, that’s to say it has to last at least during 90 days o more a year for a period of two consecutive years. It is usually produced by tobacco use and is known as COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). It is usually accompanied by bacterial infections that affect the respiratory system such as pneumonia.
  • Severe chronic bronchitis: Within chronic bronchitis, we have to distinguish severe chronic bronchitis, which occurs at times of greatest virulence and which contrasts with mild chronic bronchitis, characterized by more moderate symptoms. In any of these two periods, the person with chronic bronchitis has common symptoms such as cough and redness of the bronchial tubes.

Is bronchitis contagious?

Bronchitis is a contagious disease whose transmission occurs through air and contact. In the first case, contagion occurs mainly when we breathe the air that is contaminated by viruses from another sick person who has contaminated the air through breathing or through cough.

Contact contagion occurs when, after touching any surface contaminated by the microorganisms that cause the disease, we take our hands to a mucosa, such as the nose, mouth or eyes.

Main characteristics of bronchitis

Symptoms of  bronchitis

They depend of the type of bronchitis they refer to. The most important ones are:

Acute bronchitis symptoms

  • Cough that can be dry cough (cough without sputum)
  • Productive cough (cough which tries to release yellow or green mucus, – sputum or phlegm production)
  • Hoarseness 
  • Wheezing
  • Dyspnoea (shortness of breath)
  • General discomfort
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Fever,
  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion, Chest congestion, etc.

Chronic bronchitis symptoms

Symptoms  that are similar to Acute bronchitis although their recurrence makes them more distinguishable:

  • Productive cough
  • Dyspnoea (shortness of breath)
  • Wheezing
  • Fever
  • Pain in the chest
  • Tiredness, etc.

Other symptoms which only appear in this type of bronchitis are:

  • Blue colored lips (They show a lack of oxygen in the blood)
  • Feet, legs or ankles swollen
  • Frequent common cold or influenza.

Diagnosis of bronchitis

The diagnosis of bronchitis should be made by the doctor. Through the relevant physical examination, respiratory auscultation, and a questionnaire about the symptoms, the specialist will determine the correct diagnosis. The main method is auscultation of the lungs through the stethoscope.

In some cases a series of complementary tests such as a chest x-ray may be necessary to rule out other diseases with similar symptoms such as asthma or pneumonia.

When bronchitis is recurrent, tests can be performed to determine if there are factors that favor the onset of this disease, such as allergy tests.

Conventional treatment of bronchitis

Ginger and rosemary infusion is very useful to treat bronchitis

Generally, when bronchitis has an infectious origin, it is not necessary to take medications, since the body has the necessary resources to overcome the infection. Infusions of antibiotic plants can help us to solve the infection at home level.

ginger rosemary infusion
Infusion of rosemary and ginger

Medications for bronchitis

The doctor may prescribe an ordinary treatment, which involves the use of:

  • Antitussive medications to control cough attacks;
  • Inhalers to dilate the bronchi in case of asthma or very thick bronchi;
  • Mucus medications,
  • Medications to reduce fever,
  • Pain relievers mitigate the headache,
  • Antibiotic medications in cases of risk, serious infections or high fever (it is not necessary to take antibiotics in all cases)

Along with these treatments, the doctor will recommend rest, abundant fluid intake to dissolve the phlegm of the lungs and steam inhalations.

Bronchitis in infants and children

It is important to know that children, by nature, are predisposed to suffer respiratory complications, due to the small size of their respiratory system. This leads to a badly cured cold can be complicated in bronchiolitis, asthma attacks, etc. For this reason, it is important to go to the pediatrician when the child has wheezing when breathing, coughing, chest load, angina or snoring, which does not disappear or worsens with the days, before this state becomes chronic and leads to complications.

Children naturally have a predisposition to suffer respiratory complications, since their airways are narrower. You should see a doctor when bronchitis appears in infants and children, since they are more prone to complications due to the small diameter of their airways and their immature immune system.

Do you have to take antibiotics for bronchitis?

People should not take antibiotics if they have symptoms of acute bronchitis, since, in most cases, they have a viral origin. Therefore, unless an analysis of a culture of the sputum is done and the presence of bacteria is confirmed, the doctor does not usually prescribe antibiotics.

Chronic bronchitis is usually accompanied by bacterial infections, so antibiotics are usually recommended in these cases.

When to go to the doctor?

It is necessary to see a doctor if any of the following symptoms occur:

  • Before the first symptoms in the case of the elderly
  • Symptoms of bronchitis that do not improve in a week
  • Sputs with blood
  • Sudden high fever
  • Low fever that does not stop in two or three days
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Chest pain
  • Symptoms of bronchitis along with other respiratory or heart diseases
  • Presence of thick greenish or smelly mucus
  • Persistent cough

Complications of bronchitis

Bronchitis can evolve into pneumonia, when the infection spreads through the lungs; and bronchiolitis, when the inflammation spreads in the smallest bronchi of the lungs (bronchioles).

In the worst cases, pulmonary collapse or atelectasis can occur, consisting in the blockage of a lung area where oxygen does not reach. This complication should be treated immediately to avoid respiratory failure. This is more common in the elderly and in infants or children, with thinner or smaller airways.

Special care should be taken if bronchitis occurs in people with heart failure or heart disease, since bronchitis can impair their situation.

Bronchitis prevention

Among the main ways to prevent bronchitis, we have the following:

  • Do not smoke and avoid contact with tobacco smoke.
  • Clean your hands well before eating, when we return home, etc., to avoid exposing our body to the germs or bacteria of other sick people. This precaution should be followed especially by people who work for the public or who daily touch coins and bills.
  • Avoid enclosed spaces where many people crowd.
  • Sleep well
  • Eat properly
  • Practicing physical exercise is a good vaccine against most infections, as it improves the immune system. If possible, better outdoors, by sun exposure and its benefits, among which is the production of vitamin D.

punto rojo More information on bronchitis

Written by Editorial Botanical-online team in charge of content writing

2 July, 2020

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