Bronchitis:Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention and Complications

It can be difficult to distinguish the signs and symptoms of bronchitis from those of a common cold during initial days of illness.

Updated: June 16, 2022

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of your bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from your lungs. Bronchitis may be either acute or chronic.
Acute bronchitis is very common which develops from a cold or other respiratory infection where as chronic bronchitis is a constant irritation or inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, often due to smoking and is a more serious condition. Chronic bronchitis is one of the conditions of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Acute bronchitis is also known as chest cold. It usually improves within a week to 10 days without lasting effects, although the cough may linger for weeks.

Diagnosis of Bronchitis:

It can be difficult to distinguish the signs and symptoms of bronchitis from those of a common cold during initial days of illness.
Diagnosis can be made based on a physical exam and your symptoms. Your doctor will ask about your cough, such as how long you have had it and what kind of mucus comes up with it. She will also use a stethoscope to listen closely to your lungs as you breathe for any abnormality in sound like wheezing.
The following tests can also be done in some cases:

Chest X-ray:

A chest X-ray can help determine if you have pneumonia or another condition that may cause your cough. This is especially important if you ever were or currently are a smoker.

Sputum tests:

Sputum is the mucus that you cough up from your lungs. It can be tested to see if you could be helped by antibiotics. Sputum can also be tested for signs of allergies.

Pulmonary function test:

During a pulmonary function test, you blow into a device called a spirometer, which measures how much air your lungs can hold and how quickly you can get air out of your lungs. This test checks for signs of asthma or emphysema which is a type of COPD in which air sacs in your lungs thin out and are destroyed.

Check the oxygen levels in your blood:

This is done with a sensor that goes on your toe or finger.

Treatment of Bronchitis:

Most cases of acute bronchitis get better without treatment, usually within a couple of weeks. A course of antibiotic can be taken if it is caused by bacteria. An inhaler will helps open up your airways and makes it easier to breathe if you have asthma, allergies, or you are wheezing. It can also reduce inflammation and open narrowed passages in your lungs if you have COPD. If your cough keeps you awake from sleeping, you might try cough suppressants at bedtime.
To ease your symptoms, you can:

Drink a lot of water:

8 to 12 glasses a day helps thin out your mucus and makes it easier to cough it up.

Take over-the-counter pain relievers:

Ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin can help relief pain. But aspirin is not recommended for children. You can use acetaminophen to help with both pain and fever.

Use a humidifier or try steam:

Warm, moist air helps relieve coughs and loosens mucus in your airways. A hot shower can be great for loosening up the mucus.

Wear a face mask outside:

If cold air aggravates your cough and causes shortness of breath, put on a cold-air face mask before going outside.

Avoid lung irritants:

Do not smoke. When the air is polluted or if you are exposed to irritants, such as paint or household cleaners with strong fumes always wear a mask.

Prevention of Bronchitis:

To lower your chances of getting bronchitis you can:

  • Avoid cigarette smoke.
  • Get the flu vaccine, since you might get bronchitis from the flu virus.
  • Make sure your pertussis vaccine is up to date.
  • Wear a mask when you are exposed to irritants, such as paint or household cleaners with strong fumes.

Complications of Bronchitis:

Usually bronchitis is not a concern if it occur once, but it can lead to pneumonia in some people. However, repeated times of bronchitis may signifies that you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).


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