Understanding Bronchitis

Bronchitis is the inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, which are the passages that carry air into the lungs. 

Acute bronchitis

Acute bronchitis may cause cough, headache, fatigue, sore throat, or chest discomfort.  You may also cough up mucus—this is called a productive cough.  Acute bronchitis usually develops from a respiratory virus like the common cold or flu.  Treatment for acute bronchitis is mostly about keeping you as comfortable as possible while you recover.

Your doctor may recommend over the counter medications. You might also find that these home remedies can help:

  • Do not smoke, and avoid any other pollutants.
  • Throat lozenges can reduce coughing and help you rest.
  • Steam can help clear bronchial tubes. Breathe steam from a bowl of hot water, or take a hot shower.
  • Try hot water with honey and lemon to soothe your throat.

Because bronchitis usually starts out with a viral infection, antibiotics will not help.  An acute attack of bronchitis can last seven to ten days, and a nagging cough can linger for weeks afterwards.  You may need antibiotics if you are getting worse after seven days. 

Chronic bronchitis 

Chronic bronchitis is a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The definition of chronic bronchitis includes productive coughing for three months, or repetitive bouts of acute bronchitis lasting for two years. People who have chronic bronchitis usually have coughing and shortness of breath that will not go away as acute bronchitis does.  It is possible to have chronic bronchitis with episodes of acute bronchitis on top of the chronic disease.

Chronic bronchitis is generally caused by air pollution — most often smoking. It can also come from long exposure to toxic chemicals or to second-hand smoke. Over time, the disease causes damage to the lungs and makes breathing difficult. If you have chronic bronchitis and smoke, the most important thing you can do is to stop smoking!

You can also make lifestyle changes that can improve your health and help you breathe better. For example, exercise can improve your breathing. It may be hard to imagine getting more exercise if you have trouble breathing, but your doctor can help you plan a gentle exercise routine that can gradually build up to better lung function.

Your doctor may recommend other treatments like medications or even surgery. Because there are many approaches to chronic bronchitis, you should plan to see your doctor if you think you have this disease. Your doctor may also refer you to a pulmonary medicine specialist.