Bronchitis: Symptoms, Treatment and Self-care

Coughing and phlegm may seem like symptoms of a common flu, but they could be signs of a more serious respiratory infection or bronchitis.

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Both adults and children can develop bronchitis, a lung condition where the inner walls of the bronchial passages become inflamed. Acute bronchitis often occurs after a respiratory infection, such as a cold, and may lead to pneumonia in individuals with weaker immune systems like the elderly and infants. 

The lung condition is divided into two main types:
​Acute bronchitis: usually caused by an infection or, more rarely, by exposure to chemicals. Severe cases of acute bronchitis may progress to pneumonia
Chronic bronchitis: a common condition that includes coughing and/or sputum production for three years or more and shortness of breath. In chronic bronchitis, the airways in the lungs become swollen and produce more mucus

Causes and Risk Factors of Bronchitis

Acute bronchitis can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Viruses are the most common infectious cause of bronchitis in children. Among adults, smoking is the most common cause of chronic bronchitis. Air pollution and allergies also may cause chronic bronchitis.

Identifying Bronchitis: Symptoms and Signs 

Symptoms of acute bronchitis generally include cough with mucus, chest discomfort, fever and extreme tiredness.

Symptoms of chronic bronchitis may include cough and production of excessive phlegm. It may also cause the narrowing and plugging of breathing tubes in the lungs making it difficult to breathe. Other symptoms may include cyanosis, a condition that leads to a bluish cast of the lips and skin usually caused by low oxygen levels, and oedema, a condition characterised by an excess of fluid in areas like the ankles, feet and legs. 

Complications of Bronchitis

Acute bronchitis can lead to pneumonia in some individuals like the elderly and infants. People with chronic conditions such as diabetes, respiratory disorders or heart problems, and those whose immune system are weakened, are also at risk of this complication.

Patients with chronic bronchitis may be in danger of developing serious respiratory problems or heart failure.

Bronchitis: Treatment Options

If the case of acute bronchitis is caused by a bacterial infection, then the doctor will likely prescribe a course of antibiotics. 

For those with viral bronchitis, antibiotics will not be prescribed because they are ineffective against viral infections. The unnecessary use of antibiotics could also potentially lead to the development of drug-resistant pathogens. Instead, additional medications may be prescribed to ease your breathing. Bronchodilator medications are given if you are experiencing wheezing or shortness of breath. Corticosteroid medications may also be used to decrease the inflammation and irritation of your airways.

Treatment options for chronic bronchitis include education, quitting a smoking habit, consuming antibiotics for infections, proper chest physiotherapy, exercise and steering clear of dust, allergens and other respiratory irritants.

Bronchitis: Self-care Methods

It is important to quit smoking if you have chronic bronchitis to avoid developing serious respiratory diseases or heart failure. Call QuitLine at 1800 438 2000 to speak to advisors who will help you through the quitting process and help to get more assistance.

Other ways of improving your overall well-being if you have bronchitis include maintaining a well-balanced, healthy diet and exercising regularly. Ask your family doctor for a vaccination against influenza and pneumococcal pneumonia to avoid developing complications associated with bronchitis. As much as possible, avoid respiratory irritants such as second-hand smoke, dust and other air pollutants.

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