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Alternative namesInflammation - bronchi
DefinitionBronchitis is an inflammation of the main air passages to the lungs. Bronchitis may be sudden (acute) and short-lived, or chronic, meaning that it lasts a long time and often recurs. To be classified as chronic, you must have a cough with mucus most days of the month for three months out of the year.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Acute bronchitis generally follows a viral respiratory infection. Initially, it affects your nose, sinuses, and throat and then spreads to the large bronchial airway passages. Sometimes, you may get what is called a secondary bacterial infection. This means that bacteria infect the airways, in addition to the virus. The already inflamed area is one in which bacteria like to grow.
People at risk for acute bronchitis include:
Chronic bronchitis is a long-term condition of excessive mucus with a productive cough . This ongoing condition is inflammation but not infection. It blocks air flow in and out of the lungs.
Chronic bronchitis, like emphysema, is also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease . As these lung conditions progress over time, you become increasingly short of breath, have difficulty walking or exerting yourself physically, and may need oxygen on a regular basis.
Cigarette smoke is the chief cause of chronic bronchitis, including long-term exposure to second-hand smoke.
Factors that make it worse include air pollution, certain occupations (like coal mining, textile manufacturing, or grain handling), infection, and allergies .
The severity of the disease often relates to how much and for how long you have smoked (or been exposed to smoke).
Chronic bronchitis, emphysema , and asthma as a group are the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States. Two to three out of 100 people have chronic bronchitis.
The symptoms of either type of bronchitis include:
Even after acute bronchitis has cleared, you may have a dry, nagging cough that lingers for several weeks.
Additional symptoms of chronic bronchitis include:
Signs and tests
For acute bronchitis from a virus, you DO NOT need antibiotics. The infection will generally clear on its own within one week. Take the following steps for some relief:
If your symptoms do not improve, your doctor may prescribe an inhaler to open your airways. If your doctor thinks that you have a secondary bacterial infection, antibiotics will be prescribed.
For chronic bronchitis, the most important step you can take is to QUIT smoking. If caught early enough, you can reverse the damage to your lungs. Other important steps include:
Your doctor will usually prescribe inhaled medicines for chronic bronchitis.
These drugs, which include bronchodilators like albuterol and ipratropium, open your constricted airways and aid in the clearance of mucus. An oral bronchodilator called theophylline and steroids (either inhaled or by mouth) are often necessary as well. If you have an active infection, your doctor will put you on antibiotics and sometimes recommend regular antibiotics to prevent infection.
If you have low oxygen levels, home oxygen will be used.
For acute bronchtitis, symptoms usually resolve within 7 to 10 days if you do not have an underlying lung disorder. However, a dry, hacking cough can linger for a number of months.
The chance for recovery is poor for advanced chronic bronchitis. Early recognition and treatment, combined with smoking cessation, improve the chance of a good outcome significantly.
Pneumonia can develop from either acute or chronic bronchitis. If you have chronic bronchitis, you are susceptible to recurrent upper respiratory infections. You may also develop:
Calling your health care provider
Call your doctor if
Update Date: 11/10/2003Jacqueline A. Hart, M.D., Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Boston, Ma., and Senior Medical Editor, A.D.A.M., Inc. Previously reviewed by Thomas A. Owens, M.D., Departments of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network (5/07/2002).
Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT