Bronchitis is a lung disease. Specifically, the condition affects the airways that bring outside air into your lungs. This lung disease can cause coughing that brings up mucus and other symptoms. The condition has a variety of causes. A doctor can diagnose this respiratory problem and prescribe treatment for it.
Bronchial tubes, or bronchi, connect your windpipe to your lungs to let air in and out of your lungs. Lining these bronchial tubes are mucous membranes, which produce mucus that warms and adds moisture to the air you breathe.
In this lung condition, the mucus membranes lining the bronchial tubes become inflamed in an effort to protect your lungs. This inflammation causes you to cough and expel whatever was in your airway, but the inflammation also irritates the mucous membranes, causing the membranes to swell and grow thicker.
This swelling and thickening of the mucous membranes narrows or even closes the tiny airways in the lungs, resulting in coughing spells. Wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath may occur as air tries to squeeze through the airway. Breathlessness and phlegm may accompany the cough.
This lung condition can be acute, lasting three weeks or less, or chronic. The acute form of this lung problem, often the result of bacterial or viral infection, can cause a hacking cough.
The acute form usually starts as an upper respiratory infection, such as a cold. It then moves down into your lungs to become a lower respiratory infection. The infection typically comes on suddenly and last for three to ten days, although the cough can continue for several weeks.
The acute form of this lung disease usually happens because of a virus or breathing in things that irritate your lungs, such as tobacco smoke, dust, fumes and air pollution. Bacteria may also cause this disease. Acute bronchitis is temporary and does not cause permanent breathing problems but it may lead to pneumonia, respiratory failure or other serious complications in people with weakened immune systems.
Chronic bronchitis is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The chronic form of this lung disease can be serious and require long-term treatment – there is no cure.
Bronchitis Diagnosis and Treatment
During the first few days of this condition, it can be difficult to determine whether your symptoms are due to bronchitis or the common cold. To diagnose your condition, your doctor will listen closely to your lungs, request sputum samples to look for viruses and bacteria, and take a chest x-ray. Pulmonary function tests evaluate how well air moves through your lungs and checks for signs of other breathing problems, such as asthma or emphysema.
Antibiotics are only helpful if you have a bacterial infection in your lungs. Avoid cough suppressants, as coughing removes irritants from your lungs and bronchi. Pulmonary rehabilitation from a lung specialist may help you learn how to breathe more easily and increase your tolerance to exercise.