Bronchitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Bronchitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Nov 01, 2019

Bronchitis, commonly called chest cold, is an inflammatory disease that affects the lungs and it occurs after viral infections like the common cold. However, exposure to chemical irritants, smoke, or bacteria can cause inflammation in the lungs.

What is Bronchitis?

When bronchial tubes are attacked by virus or bacteria, they can get inflamed narrowing the breathing passage. The inflammation also causes mucus which clogs the small airways creating shortness of breath. When you cough, it’s the body’s way of clearing up these secretions to promote breathing.

At times, it’s difficult to differentiate between bronchitis and pneumonia. However, these two lung infections are different in the cause and prognosis. Bronchitis is characterized by the swelling and infection of the bronchial tubes while pneumonia is the infection of the lungs affecting the alveoli or air sacs.

Bronchitis is classified into two; acute and chronic bronchitis.

Acute bronchitis

Acute bronchitis is common affecting 5% of the general population. Approximately 10 million people in the United States suffer from acute bronchitis every year. Acute bronchitis occurs during the flu seasons– 82% of the new cases appear during autumn and winter.

Flu or respiratory infection is believed to trigger acute bronchitis. However, certain pathogens such as bacteria and influenza virus have been identified in 55% of the cases.

Chronic bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis is characterized as a persistent cough with phlegm for more than three months. Although chronic bronchitis affects smokers, about 22% of non-smokers area affected. Furthermore, the infection is also prevalent in 74% of people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

Chronic bronchitis is a long term condition that produces a lot of mucus and never goes away completely.

Treatment of this infection includes medicine that clears mucus and opens up the airways. Oxygen therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation can also help manage chronic bronchitis.

Causes of Bronchitis

The influenza virus is the cause of acute bronchitis while long term smoking or exposure to cigarette smoke causes chronic bronchitis.

In some people, allergens like pollens, vapors, or perfume can trigger acute bronchitis.

Furthermore, certain factors can predispose you to bronchitis such as;

  • Low immunity especially in babies, older adults and people with other chronic diseases increase the risk. Infections like flu or common cold compromise the immunity increasing the chances of getting bronchitis
  • Exposure of irritants. You are at a higher risk if you are exposed to lung irritants like chemical fumes from textiles and grain industries.
  • Acid reflux. Repeated bouts of heartburn can irritate the throat.

Associated Symptoms

Coughing is the first symptom of bronchitis, but you will have other problems such as;

  • Chest congestion
  • Wet cough with yellow, white, green, gray mucus
  • Wheezing when you breathe
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Fever and body chills

Mild aches, runny nose, body aches are also associated with acute bronchitis. With chronic bronchitis, you might experience a persistent cough that lasts three months with recurring episodes occurring two consecutive years.

Treatment Options

Acute bronchitis gets better without medication and the symptoms last for a couple of weeks, but you can use the following treatment to reduce the discomfort.

  • Medication. Since most causes of bronchitis are viral infections, antibiotics won’t be effective unless the cause is bacteria. Cough medicine, inhaler, and anti-inflammatory are prescribed to reduce inflammation.
  • Avoid lung irritants by wearing a mask if you are in polluted places
  • Use a humidifier to moisten the air. Moist air helps to loosen mucus and relieve coughs
  • Stay hydrated as water helps to thin out the mucus
  • Rest to give your body a chance to recuperate.

When Should You See the Doctor?

Visit an ER near you if you notice cough and produce blood or thick mucus, a cough that lasts for more than three weeks, chest pain, fever, shortness of breath, insomnia, or have unexplained weight loss.


Bronchitis is a lung infection that appears mostly during the flu season and it is caused by viruses, bacteria, and pollutants that may irritate the throat.

Bronchitis symptoms subside on their own with home treatments, but if you keep having a persistent cough, make an appoint with us for a checkup.

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