Doctor, I have a cough. Do I have bronchitis?
Cough is a symptom of several diseases, one of them being bronchitis.

So, what is bronchitis, doctor?
Bronchitis is a swelling of the lining of the air passages connecting our nose and the lungs. Acute bronchitis is a sudden inflammation of short duration and is also known as a chest cold. Chronic bronchitis means inflammation of the lining of the air passages lasting for more than three months and occurring in two consecutive years.

Is bronchitis an infection? What causes it?
Acute bronchitis is usually an infection caused by viruses like the influenza virus or bacteria and is contagious. Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, is not an infection but follows irritation of the air passages by cigarette smoke, dust, fumes and pollutants in the atmosphere.

How will I know that I have bronchitis?
The symptoms of both acute and chronic bronchitis are similar. While the onset of acute bronchitis is sudden, chronic bronchitis occurs over a long period of time. The symptoms include:

  • Cough which is persistent (can last from weeks to months in chronic cases and is called smoker’s cough).

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Excessive mucus in sputum

  • Fever with chills

  • Pain in the chest

  • Throat pain

  • Fatigue

  • Nose block

  • Squeaky noise as you breathe (wheezing)

How is bronchitis diagnosed?
Bronchitis is diagnosed based on your symptoms, and the history of whether you suffered from a cold or flu recently or whether you were exposed to cigarette smoke and/or air pollutants. Using a stethoscope, I can listen to your lungs. I can also check your blood oxygen levels with an oximeter and have your mucus checked for bacteria. In addition, an X-ray of your lungs and pulmonary function tests will help to confirm the diagnosis.

What is the treatment, doctor?
Treatment includes:

  • Adequate rest

  • Drinking plenty of fluids

  • Breathing warm and moist air

  • Cough suppressants

  • Pain medication to relieve pain while breathing

  • Oxygen may be required if breathing is difficult

  • Antibiotics may be required to treat bacterial infection, although no medication is prescribed for viral bronchitis

  • Medicines to liquefy the mucous (mucolytics)

  • Steam and a humidifier to loosen the mucus

  • Stop smoking or exposure to fumes and other respiratory irritants

Is there any complication due to bronchitis?
Pneumonia is an important complication and typically occurs in the very young (infants), very old (elderly), in individuals who smoke, and in those with poor immunity, lung diseases or multi-organ illnesses.

How can I prevent bronchitis? 
Some effective measures to decrease your risk of bronchitis are:

  • Avoid smoking and second hand smoke

  • Wear a mask to decrease your risk of exposure to smoke, fumes and other lung irritants

  • Hand washing to reduce risk of viral infections

  • Get a flu and pneumonia vaccine