Bronchitis is one of the top 10 conditions for which people seek medical care. It’s an uncomfortable ailment that leaves you coughing for weeks (or more) and comes with plenty of mucus. Although many physicians treat bronchitis with antibiotics, a majority of cases are caused by viruses and antibiotics are completely ineffective. Try using some safe and natural remedies. They can help to reduce swelling in the bronchial tubes and relieve your sometimes painful cough.
What is Bronchitis?
Bronchitis is the inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the tubes that carry air to your lungs. This condition causes you to cough persistently, sometimes making it hard to breathe. The coughing may even lead to chest pain and wheezing. Bronchitis is also known as a chest cold because it usually occurs after you’ve already experienced symptoms of the common cold.
About 5 percent of adults self-report an episode of acute bronchitis each year. Up to 90 percent of them seek medical advice. In fact, bronchitis is the fifth most common reason why adults see their general practitioner.
Signs & Symptoms of Bronchitis
The main symptom of acute bronchitis is a persistent cough. This cough lasts until your bronchial tubes heal and the swelling goes down. The cough lasts for less than 3 weeks in 50 percent of patients. But for 25 percent of patients it may last more than one month. Because bronchitis usually develops after you’ve already had a cold or flu, you may also experience typical cold and flu symptoms, such as:
stuffy or runny nose
When you cough, you may produce a clear mucus, or slimy substance; if the mucus is a yellow or green color, that’s a sign that you have a bacterial infection as well.
Other symptoms of acute bronchitis include wheezing (a whistling or squeaky sound when you breathe), chest tightness or pain, lower fever and maybe even shortness of breath, especially during physical activity.
People with chronic bronchitis most commonly experience coughing (often called a smoker’s cough) with large amounts of fluid, wheezing and chest discomfort.
Acute Bronchitis vs. Chronic Bronchitis
There are two main types of bronchitis: acute (short term) and chronic (ongoing). Acute bronchitis is more common. It typically doesn’t cause any problems once the infection is gone. The same viruses that cause colds and the flu are the most common cause of acute bronchitis. Acute bronchitis lasts from a few days to 10 days; however, coughing may last for several weeks after the infection is gone.
Chronic bronchitis is an ongoing, serious condition that is associated with an accelerated decline in lung function. It occurs if the lining of the bronchial tubes is constantly irritated and inflamed. People with chronic bronchitis have a long-term cough with mucus. Sometimes, viruses or bacteria can infect the already irritated bronchial tubes, making the condition even worse.
Smoking is the main cause of chronic bronchitis. So, the first line of treatment is to quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke. In fact, research shows that approximately one-quarter of smokers can be affected by clinically significant chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is a respiratory disease characterized by abnormal inflammatory response in the lungs and restricted airflow.
Bronchitis Causes & Risk Factors
The same viruses that give you a cold or the flu often cause bronchitis as well. Sometimes bacteria are the cause. Research suggests that 85 to 95 percent of cases of acute bronchitis are caused by viruses, the most common being rhinovirus, adenovirus, influenza A and B, and parainfluenza. When bacteria is the cause of bronchitis, it is usually in people with underlying health problems. In both cases, your body tries to fight off the germs and, as a result, your bronchial tubes swell and make more mucus, which causes smaller openings for air to flow and makes it harder to breathe.
People with a weaker immune system, such as elderly people, infants and young children, are at a higher risk of developing acute bronchitis than people in other age groups. Chronic bronchitis occurs more often in people older than 45, but it can develop at any age.
Many adults who develop chronic bronchitis are smokers or live with a smoker. A study published in Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine indicates that over 40 percent of smokers will develop chronic bronchitis in their lifetime. Researchers found that smokers may reduce their risk of developing COPD symptoms with physical activity and increase their survival by smoking reduction.
Women are also more at risk of developing chronic bronchitis; in fact, women are more than twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with chronic bronchitis.
Other factors, such as contact with dust, chemical fumes and vapors from certain jobs, also increase your risk for bronchitis. This includes jobs in coal mining, grain handling, livestock farming and textile manufacturing. Some people may develop bronchitis because of a reaction to allergies or food intolerances as well.
Conventional Treatment for Bronchitis
Research shows that 85 percent of patients will improve without specific bronchitis treatment. Some systematic reviews found no benefit from using antibiotics, as most bronchitis cases are viral.
Bronchodilators are sometimes used to widen the air passages by relaxing the bronchial smooth muscle. Bronchodilators are commonly used for asthma, COPD, allergic reactions and other conditions that cause breathing problems. It is used for more severe cases of bronchitis in people who show evidence of bronchospasm. It does come with some side effects, including headaches, nausea, upset stomach and flu-like symptoms.
Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, aspirin and acetaminophen are sometimes used to relieve pain and fever associated with bronchitis. You have to be careful with these types of drugs because you may take too much without even realizing it. Acetaminophen, for instance, is in several common over-the-counter brands that you may take in combination. Just like the side effects of taking too much aspirin or ibuprofen overdose, an acetaminophen overdose can lead to liver failure, coma and even death.