Most people have heard of bronchitis which is a thickening or swelling of the lining of the bronchial tubes which carry oxygen in and out of your lungs. People who have bronchitis often cough up thickened mucous which can be discolored. There are two types acute and chronic bronchitis.
Acute bronchitis is more common and often develops from a cold or other respiratory infection. It usually improves within 10 days, although the cough may last for weeks. It usually resolves and does not cause any lasting effects. If you have repeated bouts of bronchitis, you may have developed chronic bronchitis and this requires medical treatment. It is one of the conditions that make up Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
The most common causes of acute bronchitis are the same viruses that cause influenza and colds. Although not as common, bacteria may also cause the condition. As your body fights off the germs, the lining of your bronchial tubes swells and produce mucous and this causes the tube to narrow and can make breathing more difficult.
The symptoms of bronchitis include a productive cough, with white, yellow or green sputum. You may have chest congestion where your chest feels full, shortness of breath, or wheezing. Because acute bronchitis is most commonly caused by a virus, you also may have a low fever, body aches, chills and a stuffy nose. Even after the other symptoms are gone, the cough may persist for a few weeks while the swelling in the bronchial tubes resolves.
Chronic bronchitis is defined as a productive cough that lasts three months, with recurring bouts occurring for at least two consecutive years. If you have chronic bronchitis, there will be episodes of worsening symptoms which may indicate an acute infection on top of chronic bronchitis. The most common cause of chronic bronchitis is cigarette smoke. Air pollution, dust and toxic fumes in the environment may also cause the condition.
Call your doctor if you cough lasts more than three weeks, brings up blood or thickened mucous, or keeps you awake at night. You should also seek medical attention if your cough has a barking sound, causes chest pain or is accompanied by unexplained weight loss.
Your doctor can usually diagnose acute bronchitis with a physical exam. She will listen to your lungs with a stethoscope to determine if you are wheezing or have decreased breath sounds. That is usually sufficient, but in some cases your oxygen levels may be checked by placing a monitor on your finger. A chest x-ray may be ordered, lung function tests, or even a flu swab if your exam and symptoms indicate this is appropriate.
In most cases acute bronchitis will go away on its own. In cases where it is caused by a bacterial an antibiotic will be prescribed. If you have allergies, asthma or wheezing an inhaler may be prescribed which will help open your airways. To help alleviate your symptoms, drink plenty of water, this will thin our your mucous and make it easier to cough up. Get plenty of rest so that you can fight off the infection and take over the counter pain relievers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen to help alleviate symptoms.