Bronchitis | Primary Care | Loyola Medicine


Overview and Facts about Bronchitis

Bronchitis occurs when the lining of a patient’s bronchial tubes become inflamed. These tubes carry air to and from the lungs, and bronchitis interferes with this process.

Acute cases of bronchitis are often associated with a cold or respiratory infection and can result in more coughing and thickened mucus. These cases typically last 7 to 10 days, but the cough could linger for a few weeks.

Chronic bronchitis develops from a constant inflammation in the bronchial tubes and can become a serious condition. When left untreated, it can lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Signs and Symptoms of Bronchitis

Both acute and chronic bronchitis result in the same signs and symptoms. Some of the most common include:

  • Chest pressure or discomfort
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Producing extra mucus, which may be white, yellow, gray, green or clear; it may also contain streaks of blood
  • Shortness of breath

In chronic bronchitis, these symptoms, particularly the nagging cough, lasts for at least three months and the patient experiences recurrent bouts every year.

Causes and Risk Factors of Bronchitis

In cases of acute bronchitis, the illness results from a virus that causes a cold or the flu. Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, is often caused by smoking cigarettes. It can worsen when the patient is exposed to air pollution or toxic gases.

Those most at risk for developing bronchitis include people who:

  • Are exposed to environmental toxins at work
  • Have a weakened immune system
  • Have been diagnosed with gastric reflux, which can irritate the throat
  • Smoke

Tests and Diagnosis of Bronchitis

Bronchitis is diagnosed by a primary care physician during a physical examination. During the exam, a stethoscope is used to listen to the patient’s lungs and breathing sounds. To rule out other conditions, the doctor may recommend certain testing, including:

  • Chest X-rays
  • Pulmonary function tests
  • Sputum tests

If the doctor suspects that bronchitis is caused by something other than a virus, they may need a sample of the mucus to see if it’s caused by a bacterial infection.

Treatment and Care of Bronchitis

In cases of acute bronchitis, the condition often gets better without medical intervention, although it may take a few weeks for the symptoms, particularly the cough, to resolve.

If symptoms are severe and interfering with daily functioning, the doctor may recommend taking a cough suppressant, especially at bedtime, or using an inhaler to aid breathing.

These inhalers can reduce bronchial inflammation and open passages that have become narrow.

Although it’s rare, bronchitis can be caused by a bacterial infection. When this occurs, the doctor prescribes an antibiotic to fight the condition.

In cases of chronic bronchitis, the doctor may recommend pulmonary rehabilitation. A breathing exercise program, this therapy teaches patients how to breathe easier and increases lung capacity.

Lifestyle modifications can also help reduce symptoms of bronchitis. Such modification could include:

  • Avoiding irritants
  • Quitting smoking
  • Using a humidifier
  • Wearing a face mask, especially outside