Healthy Living

Chronic Bronchitis

What Is Chronic Bronchitis?

Key Takeaways

  • Bronchitis is an inflammation of the inner lining of the bronchial tubes.
  • The chronic form of bronchitis is often caused by breathing in bronchial irritants, especially the smoke from cigarettes.
  • Severe episodes of signs and symptoms of chronic bronchitis may be triggered by a heart condition, infections, respiratory tract infections, exposure to environmental irritants, etc.

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the inner lining of the bronchial tubes. It can affect anyone, regardless of their age and gender. Bronchitis may be either acute or chronic.

What Is Chronic Bronchitis?

Chronic bronchitis is a more severe medical condition characterized by a chronic inflammation of the inner lining of the bronchial tubes. It is a condition that tends to develop over time when acute bronchitis is left undiagnosed and untreated. The chronic inflammation of the inner lining in the bronchial tubes tends to worsen with time and usually lasts for several months or even sometimes years.

Due to chronic inflammation, the airflow will also get restricted. This restriction of airflow leads to lower airflow entering and exiting the lungs. With time, this blockage of the airflow will result in shortness of breath and other breathing difficulties. Another factor which contributes to breathing problems is the excessive production of thick and sticky mucus which tends to build up in the airways.

As the disease tends to progress with time, many people suffering from chronic bronchitis will end up having a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema, which are serious medical conditions affecting the lungs. These two medical conditions have no cure, but their signs and symptoms can be controlled well with proper medical treatment.

Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Bronchitis

The signs and symptoms of chronic bronchitis tend to get worse with time. A persistent and heavy cough is a characteristic that brings the mucus up from the lungs. The mucus can be whitish, greenish, or have a yellow color. As the inflammation progresses and the accumulation of the mucus in the airways increases due to an increased production of the mucus in the lungs, it tends to build up in the bronchial tubes and restrict the normal airflow from and into the lungs. This restriction of the normal airflow will result in breathing problems like shortness of breath, often accompanied with wheezing.

Other signs and symptoms of chronic bronchitis include fatigue, chest discomfort, fever, chills, bad breath, etc.

As the disease progresses, its signs and symptoms tend to vary in their severity and frequency. Severe episodes of signs and symptoms of chronic bronchitis may be triggered by a heart condition, infections, respiratory tract infections, exposure to environmental irritants, etc.

How Is Chronic Bronchitis Diagnosed?

Every time you are experiencing breathing problems, have a high fever, or a persistent cough accompanied by mucus expectoration, you should seek medical help. Diagnosing and treating chronic bronchitis on time is necessary in order to prevent serious lung complications.

Your doctor will usually order the following tests and examinations:

  • Blood test – A blood sample may be taken to help determine whether you have chronic bronchitis.
  • Chest X-ray – A chest x-ray is the process of using a small amount of ionizing radiation to produce internal images of the chest. It is often used to evaluate the heart, lungs, and chest wall.
  • Sputum examination – Sputum is the thickened fluid created in the lungs and also in the airways leading to the lungs. The examination of sputum is often done to check for the fungi or bacteria that are causing an infection to develop in the lungs.
  • Spirometry test – This is a common lung function test that examines how well your lungs are working. It displays how well you inhale and exhale.
  • CT-scan – A computerized tomography scan uses x-ray equipment to assist in the detection of various diseases and conditions. It is a fast, noninvasive, painless, and accurate test.

How Is Chronic Bronchitis Treated?

There is no cure for chronic bronchitis. However, with the right diagnosis and treatment, its signs and symptoms can be maintained and kept under control. The severity of its signs and symptoms as well as their frequency can be reduced. Also, the progression of the disease toward serious health complications can be stopped.

Always depending on the severity of the treatment, the following medications are recommended:

  • Bronchodilators
  • Theophylline
  • Corticosteroids

Pulmonary rehabilitation is often necessary. During pulmonary rehabilitation, the affected person is taught how to improve the breathing and their overall health.

Are There Differences Between Chronic and Acute Bronchitis?

Although chronic and acute bronchitis both cause inflammation of the air passages, the causes for both conditions, along with their treatments, are different. The acute form of bronchitis is more prevalent during the colder parts of the year. It commonly follows a viral infection, such as the flu or a cold, and can sometimes be accompanied by a second bacterial infection. Acute bronchitis usually resolves within 2 weeks, although a cough can persist longer. Acute bronchitis can also increase an individual’s risk of developing pneumonia.

For chronic bronchitis, it is estimated that around 14 million Americans suffer from this condition. Like the acute from of bronchitis, chronic bronchitis causes inflammation of the airways that is accompanied by coughing and spitting up phlegm.

The chronic form of bronchitis is often caused by breathing in bronchial irritants, especially the smoke from cigarettes. Until recently, men had a tendency to develop chronic bronchitis more than women. However, due to an increase in women smoking cigarettes, the number of chronic bronchitis cases in women has increased. Because chronic bronchitis is a disease that progresses slowly, older and middle-aged people are more likely to be diagnosed with the condition.

Is Chronic Bronchitis COPD?

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is often a mixture of 2 diseases: Emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Both of these conditions are usually due to smoking cigarettes. Although you can be diagnosed with either emphysema or chronic bronchitis, people commonly have a combination of both conditions.

Are There Ways to Prevent Chronic Bronchitis?

One of the most effective precautions that you can take to avoid the development of chronic bronchitis is by quitting smoking. Since the main cause of chronic bronchitis is often smoking cigarettes or inhaling cigarette smoke, the best measure that an individual can take to avoid the condition is by quitting their smoking habit altogether.

However, chronic bronchitis can also be caused by inhaling fumes, air pollution, or dust over extended periods of time. Thus, it is also important to avoid extended exposure to such environments.