The bronchi are the small tubes within the lungs that transport air in and out. These tubes can become inflamed and irritated causing a cough and increased mucus production. When this happens it is called bronchitis. Bronchitis can be caused by an infection or irritating substance, such as smoke, that is breathed into the lungs. Usually the infections that lead to bronchitis are caused by respiratory viruses, like the type of virus that causes the common cold. Occasionally bronchitis can also be caused by a bacterial infection.
WHO IS AT RISK?
We are all at risk for developing bronchitis, especially following a cold or upper respiratory tract infection. While the persistent cough can be a major nuisance, most healthy adults that develop bronchitis will get better on their own without any lasting effects. Certain people, such as the elderly, young children and those with lung problems can develop more serious complications of bronchitis such as pneumonia and recurrent episodes of bronchitis.
The most common symptom of bronchitis is a persistent cough. This cough can be dry or productive of mucus. People also may have generalized fatigue and a low grade fever. The cough associated with bronchitis usually runs its course in a couple of weeks. However, some people may have a cough that lasts as long as 4 weeks. Symptoms such as shortness of breath, high fevers or chills may indicate a more serious infection such as pneumonia and should be evaluated by your doctor immediately.
DIAGNOSIS AND BRONCHITIS TREATMENT
Bronchitis is diagnosed when your doctor completes a careful medical history and exam. Rarely a chest x-ray may be needed to rule out a more serious infection such as pneumonia. The treatment for bronchitis is mainly supportive and focused on minimizing symptoms while your body fights the infection. Treatments can include medications to decrease cough and break up mucus. Antibiotics are generally not required to treat bronchitis.