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).
Excessive mucus in sputum
Fever with chills
Pain in the chest
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?
Drinking plenty of fluids
Breathing warm and moist air
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