According to the American Lung Association, Chronic bronchitis affects 9 million adults or 3.6% of Americans aged 18 years and above. Although bronchitis is common to a chest cold, its symptoms persist for several days, weeks, or months.
Patients get acute or chronic bronchitis— acute being a mild form of bronchitis whose symptoms don’t last beyond two weeks. On the other hand, some patients contract acute bronchitis with severe symptoms that can persist for over a year.
Bronchitis can cause mild symptoms such as mucus, fever, or fatigue to severe symptoms such as coughing with blood to shortness of breath. Acute bronchitis can cause pneumonia or worsen pre-existing conditions, such as heart failure, if left untreated.
Fortunately, you can manage bronchitis symptoms using early home care interventions. Alternatively, you can seek treatment from a qualified, board-certified physician from a trusted urgent care center.
What Is Bronchitis?
Bronchitis is a medical condition that causes airway inflammation leading into the lungs. When the trachea or bronchi becomes irritated, they swell and fill with mucus triggering coughing. A cough related to bronchitis can last a couple of weeks.
Coughing is the main symptom of bronchitis.
Who Does Bronchitis Affect?
Anyone can get bronchitis; however, the following people stand a higher chance:
- People who smoke or are around people who do
- People with asthma, COPD, or other breathing conditions
- People who live near air pollutants, e.g., smoke or chemicals
- People with chronic acid reflux(GERD)
- If you have an auto-immune disorder or other illnesses that trigger inflammation
Types of Bronchitis
Acute bronchitis is a viral and contagious viral infection that causes inflammation of the bronchial tubes. When the trachea and bronchial tubes get infected, they swell and produce mucus, narrowing the airways, which affects breathing.
Bronchitis is considered chronic if you cough with mucus for at least three months in a year for most days of the month. Chronic bronchitis goes on for at least two years. If you get Chronic bronchitis, you may also have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease(COPD).
What Causes Bronchitis
Acute bronchitis is often caused by an infectious virus— a similar virus that causes a cold may also cause acute bronchitis. The virus responsible for bronchitis affects your nose, sinuses, and throat.
Then, the infection travels to the lining of the bronchial tubes. As the immune system responds to the viral infection, the tubes become inflamed, which triggers mucus production. You can catch acute bronchitis through inhaling or skin contact.
Bacteria and fungal infections are other lesser causes of acute bronchitis.
Risk Factors of Bronchitis
- Gastric Reflux: Severe and repeated episodes of heartburn can irritate your throat, making you vulnerable to bronchitis. Generally, acid is known to cause post-nasal drip, hoarseness, chest congestion, lung inflammation, and throat irritation that causes bronchitis or asthma.
- Poor Resistance: Your body has low resistance to bronchitis if you have an acute illness such as a cold or any other chronic condition that compromises immunity. In addition, people with compromised immunity, such as infants, young children, and older adults, are highly vulnerable to the infection.
- Smoking: People who smoke or live with a smoker are more likely to develop acute or chronic bronchitis.
- Exposure to Irritants: You stand a higher risk of developing acute bronchitis if your environment is around lung irritants like grains and textiles or exposure to chemical fumes.
Symptoms of Bronchitis
A persistent cough that lasts one to three weeks is the main symptom of bronchitis. Acute bronchitis, a chest cold, may improve within a week to 10 days without lasting effects. Even so, the cold may linger up to 10 weeks.
However, if you have repeated bronchitis episodes, you may have chronic bronchitis that requires medical attention. Unlike acute bronchitis marked with coughing, chronic bronchitis has constant irritation or inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes.
Whether acute or chronic bronchitis, signs and symptoms may include:
- Chest discomfort
- Mild fever and chills
- Runny nose
- Mucus—which may be clear, white, green, yellowish-gray, and sometimes streaked with blood
Acute bronchitis is linked with cold symptoms such as mild headaches and body aches. Although cold symptoms improve in a week, you may have a nagging cough lasting several weeks.
If you have chronic bronchitis, it’s possible to have periods when cough and other symptoms worsen. You can define acute bronchitis if you have a productive cough lasting for three months and recurring episodes(cough bouts) lasting at least two years.
Self-Care at Home: When to Monitor Symptoms and Try Home Remedies
Bronchitis is extremely annoying because the cough can last for weeks, even if the infection is gone. Before you take any action on bronchitis, it’s important to see a doctor to rule out serious health conditions like pneumonia.
If you have acute bronchitis, seek medical attention to enhance speedy recovery. With proper self-care, you can bounce quickly to your usual self.
As you practice patience in your journey to recovery, the following home remedies can help you feel better.
Steam can help break mucus, making coughing or clearing your airways easier.
Below are the additional benefits of steam for bronchitis:
- Improves breathing— steam opens up the airways and increases oxygen flow in your lungs.
- Reduces inflammation— steam may reduce inflammation in the bronchial tubes helping relieve coughing and wheezing.
- Promotes relaxation— Steam can help promote stress and relaxation, boosting your immune system and overall health.
One of the easiest ways to use steam is during a bath or shower. Ensure the shower is as hot as possible, then breathe deeply through your mouth and nose. The hot water may also help calm down muscles during coughing.
Alternatively, put hot water in a bowl, cover your head with a towel, and inhale the steam. Avoid using the steam home remedy if you feel ill or short of breath.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle will prepare your body to wade off a bronchitis infection. Healthy habits may also help you recover faster if you’re feeling sick. Remember, a minor illness may signal that your body is telling you to calm down or take it easy.
Here are a few healthy habits that will enhance your recovery and prevent you from contracting bronchitis:
- Eat a well-balanced diet to boost your immunity
- Avoiding staying in places where pollution is high
- Wash your hands frequently to avoid spreading them to others
- Exercise at least three times a week for a minimum of 20 minutes.
- Wear surgical masks to avoid exposure to pollution
- Quit smoking and avoid places where you take second-hand smoke
Studies suggest that ginger has anti-inflammatory benefits for respiratory infections. Ginger can reduce inflammation and ease your cough if you’re having bouts of bronchitis where your airways are inflamed and irritated.
You can take ginger in the following ways:
- Infuse raw ginger into your tea
- Eat it raw or add it to food
- Take ginger in capsule form as directed
- Chew crystalized or dried ginger
It is safe to take ginger in its natural form. In addition, take ginger in small amounts if you’re not used to it. More importantly, avoid taking ginger as a medication or supplement if you have conditions such as diabetes, pregnancy, heart problems, a blood disorder, or when breastfeeding.
Several studies indicate that turmeric has medicinal properties—antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory—that could be beneficial in fighting bronchitis. Turmeric also increases antioxidant activity, helping reduce irritation and boost your immunity.
Here’s how you can use turmeric for bronchitis:
- Include fresh turmeric on salads
- Take turmeric capsules as directed
- Use fresh or powdered turmeric to make tea
- Make a paste by mixing ½ teaspoon of powdered turmeric with one teaspoon of honey. Consume the paste 1-3 times daily to calm the symptoms.
Using turmeric as a spice in food is the safest way to ingest it. Avoid taking turmeric if you have stomach issues, iron deficiency, hormone-sensitive conditions, or blood disorders. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, take it in moderate amounts.
Get Enough Sleep
Fatigue is one of the main symptoms of bronchitis. Sleep may boost the immune system and enhance recovery from an infection. Sleep plays a vital role in the repair of damaged tissue, the release of hormones, and the renewal of energy.
With that in mind, get enough sleep that will allow your body enough rest. Sleeping well while fighting a cough may be difficult— use more pillows to raise the head to assist in sleeping. When the head is raised, it can soothe breathing and clear mucus from the chest.
According to Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, adults should sleep at least 7-8 hours daily and children 10-12 hours daily. During the deep stages of sleep, your body recharges and becomes better prepared to fight the inflammation.
Garlic is widely recognized for its ability to fight bacteria, viruses, and fungi. One study found that allicin was an active compound in freshly crushed garlic with antiviral properties. More studies suggest that garlic curbs the growth of infectious bronchitis virus.
The best form to take garlic is raw; however, you can take it in capsule form if you dislike its taste. If you have a bleeding disorder, take garlic with caution. More importantly, take garlic in small amounts to avoid stomach upsets.
Over-the-counter medications don’t cure bronchitis but will ease the symptoms.
Here are a few medications to ease your symptoms:
- Cough Suppressants: Over-the-counter cough suppressants can help ease a stubborn cough if it keeps you awake at night.
- Cough Expectorant: You may need a cough expectorant to clear mucus from your airways. Medicine with guaifenesin is commonly used to help loosen mucus.
It is always advisable to take the over-the-counter medication with caution. Also, understand the type of cough you’re dealing with— for instance, treating a wet cough with cough suppressants is ill-advised.
Red Flags and Complications: Signs that Warrant a Visit to the Doctor
There’s no clear way to tell if you have bronchitis or another severe medical condition. See a health provider at an urgent care center if you have the following:
- A fever that’s more than 102° F
- A cough that produces a discolored mucus
- Wheezing and shortness of breath
- A fever that lasts over five days
- A cough that lasts over three weeks
- A cough that prevents you from sleeping
Preparing for Your Appointment
A general doctor or physician can diagnose and treat bronchitis. However, you may be referred to a pulmonologist, a doctor specializing in lung diseases, if you have chronic bronchitis.
Consider answers to the following questions to help you prepare for your appointment:
- Have you recently had the flu or cold?
- Have you ever had pneumonia?
- Do you smoke or stay around tobacco smoke?
- Do you have a pre-existing medical condition?
- Are you exposed to lung irritants at your workplace?
Seeking Medical Attention: Benefits of Consulting a Healthcare Professional for Bronchitis
Although home remedies can help with irritation and inflammation, you may need to see a doctor if you’re having trouble managing your symptoms. If you have frequent bronchitis episodes, you may have chronic bronchitis caused by an underlying health condition that needs treatment.
A doctor uses all forms of examinations available to them, including X-ray or sputum tests, to create a better understanding of the patient’s problem.
Here’s how a doctor administers the treatment.
Diagnosis of Bronchitis
In the initial days of the infection, it is difficult to tell whether someone has bronchitis because the condition has symptoms similar to the common cold. First, the doctor will use a stethoscope to listen closely to your lungs as you breathe.
The doctor may also request the following tests for a better understanding of your condition:
- Chest X-ray: Chest X-ray is not used to confirm acute or chronic bronchitis; instead, it shows signs of bronchi inflammation linked with bronchitis. A chest X-ray may also detect signs of lung infection caused by pneumonia. X-ray is also used to visualize changes in the chest caused by chronic bronchitis or emphysema.
- Complete Blood Count: Your healthcare provider may request a complete blood count(CBC) to get important information about the types and amounts of blood cells in your body. The healthcare provider may also determine if you have an infection which may be acute or chronic bronchitis.
- Sputum Culture/Sputum Test: Sputum culture examines the presence of bacteria in your sputum, which may indicate that you have a respiratory tract infection. If you have acute bronchitis, a positive result indicates that acute bronchitis is the cause of your infection. Similarly, a positive sputum culture test can indicate chronic bronchitis, where you’re prone to frequent lung infections.
- Pulmonary Function Test: Pulmonary function testing applies spirometry to assess your airflow as you breathe. The test helps establish the presence and extent of airflow obstruction. Pulmonary function tests check signs of asthma or emphysema. A PFT test is not required for acute bronchitis and is performed at a doctor’s office and other healthcare clinics.
Treatment of Bronchitis
Most acute bronchitis patients get better without treatment within a couple of weeks.
However, you may need medication and other treatment plans if you have a recurring form of chronic bronchitis.
Medication for Chronic Bronchitis
- Antibiotics: Many cases of acute bronchitis are caused by viral infections ruling out antibiotics as a form of treatment. If you take an antibiotic to treat bronchitis, it will only cause antibiotic resistance. However, you may need a prescription antibiotic for acute bronchitis caused by a bacterial infection. A doctor will prescribe an antibiotic that matches a bacterial organism.
- Steroids: A doctor may recommend oral steroids to treat worsening symptoms of chronic bronchitis. For instance, inhaled steroids treat either stable or relatively worsening symptoms.
- Bronchodilators: A physician may recommend bronchodilators to relax muscles around the bronchi allowing them to expand. Wheezing and chest tightness may improve temporarily, helping distribute oxygen into your lungs and enhancing energy levels. These medications are often called rescue inhalers and treat sudden bouts of shortness of breath related to bronchitis.
You may benefit from non-invasive therapy techniques to relieve chronic bronchitis symptoms and congestion.
Some of the commonly used therapy techniques include:
- Pulmonary Rehabilitation: It is an education and exercise program that teaches you how to breathe and exercise more easily. For instance, it lets you engage in physical activity with less shortness of breath.
- Chest Physiotherapy: The procedure is called chest percussion, which involves clapping on the chest to loosen mucus and make coughing easy.
Don’t let Bronchitis Ruin Your Health; Speak to a Trusted Physician Today
Bronchitis comes with uncomfortable symptoms, such as coughing, fever, runny nose, chest discomfort, and mucus. Despite the frustration, you might have to wait a few weeks for the medication to work and for the body to recover.
Acute bronchitis can cause pneumonia or worsen existing health conditions if left untreated. The risk of complications reiterates the need for timely and quality care from an urgent care center.
At Newport Urgent Care & Occupational Medicine, we have a team of highly trained and experienced physicians ready to assist you.
Contact us online or call us at 949.806.4388 to request an appointment.