Bronchitis is a condition in which the lungs in the lungs are called bronchial tubes to become swollen and inflamed to produce mucus. This mucus production triggers bouts of coughing that can linger long after other symptoms of bronchitis have improved. Bronchitis can be acute or chronic and should be treated immediately to minimize lasting discomfort from symptoms.

Read on to learn more about the symptoms and risk factors of bronchitis and about how Lompoc Valley Medical Center can treat you for this condition.

Acute bronchitis, also known as a chest cold, is bronchitis that lasts between 7 and 10 days. It is more common than chronic bronchitis and usually develops following a respiratory infection such as the common cold or influenza. Though symptoms of acute bronchitis may resolve within 10 days, coughing may persist for several additional weeks.

Chronic bronchitis is long-lasting bronchitis and a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This serious condition usually occurs due to long-term exposure to harmful irritants that damage the airways and lungs. The main cause of chronic bronchitis is smoking, followed by regular exposure to air pollution and chemical irritants—especially those breathed in at the workplace.

diagram of lungs

What Are the Symptoms of Bronchitis?

Acute and chronic bronchitis share the same symptoms, though symptoms of chronic bronchitis are often more severe. Many people with bronchitis cannot distinguish their symptoms from the common cold during the first few days of illness.

Common symptoms of bronchitis include:

  • Cough with or without mucus (which may be clear, white, yellow-gray, or green)
  • Fatigue
  • Soreness or discomfort in the chest
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Sore throat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tearing of the eyes
  • Fever and chills

Chronic bronchitis may have additional symptoms, including:

  • Wheezing
  • Whistling sound when breathing
  • Shortness of breath that worsens with physical activity
  • Tightness in the chest

What Are Risk Factors of Bronchitis?

Acute bronchitis is usually caused by viruses and sometimes caused by bacteria. Chronic bronchitis is usually caused by long-term exposure to cigarette smoke and other harmful irritants.

Certain risk factors can increase your risk of developing bronchitis. These risk factors include:

  • Smoking or exposure to cigarette smoke. An estimated 75% of people with chronic bronchitis are current or former smokers.
  • Exposure to irritants in the workplace, such as chemical fumes, vapors, and dust.
  • Being 40 years of age or older.
  • Lowered immunity from a chronic health condition or acute illness such as a cold.
  • Frequent heartburn and gastric reflux.
  • A family history of COPD.

How is Bronchitis Diagnosed?

Bronchitis can be properly diagnosed by your doctor with a physical exam and one or more tests. During the physical exam, your doctor will use a stethoscope to listen to your lungs as you breathe. Your doctor will also ask you about your symptoms, your personal medical history, and your family’s medical history. Tests that can accurately diagnose bronchitis include chest X-ray, sputum test, pulmonary function test, blood test, and computed tomography (CT) scan. 

A chest X-ray can help determine the root cause of your cough. Simultaneously, a sputum test examines the mucus from your lungs to determine whether you have allergies or if your bronchitis can be effectively treated with antibiotics. During a pulmonary function test, your doctor may have you blow into a device called a spirometer that measures the volume of air you can hold in your lungs and the force at which you can expel air from the lungs.

Your doctor will talk to you in greater detail about the diagnostic tests you can take for bronchitis during your appointment.

Can Bronchitis Be Prevented?

You can prevent bronchitis and reduce your risk for this illness by practicing a series of healthy behaviors. Practicing good hygiene is critical to preventing bronchitis and keeping your immune system strong to help ward off illness.

Other steps you can take to reduce your risk for bronchitis include:

  • Quitting smoking, and never smoking if you do not currently smoke.
  • Avoiding exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke.
  • Washing your hands regularly.
  • Reducing exposure to common lung irritants, including air pollution, vehicle exhaust, chemical fumes, and dust.
  • Covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing.
  • Staying home when you are sick to prevent the spreading of illness to others.
  • Staying up to date on vaccinations—particularly the flu vaccine, since bronchitis may be caused by influenza.

How Can Bronchitis Be Treated?

Most acute bronchitis cases will clear on their own within a few weeks by practicing self-care at home. Self-care for bronchitis includes getting plenty of rest, drinking plenty of fluids to flush away mucus and waste, and using a cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier to loosen mucus and soothe the lungs. You may also try breathing in steam such as that produced by a hot shower.

Over-the-counter lozenges and cough medicines may be used to relieve bronchitis symptoms; however, you should ask your doctor for recommendations on the best medicines to use and use them properly as directed on the label. Lastly, avoid exposure to lung irritants while you have bronchitis to prevent your illness from progressing or persisting for longer than a few weeks.

Treatment for chronic bronchitis is different from that for acute bronchitis. It is critical to slowing the progression of the disease and minimizing symptoms. Chronic bronchitis is commonly treated with the following interventions:

  • Medications, including bronchodilators, relax the muscles around the airways to make breathing easier. 
  • Oxygen therapy to improve breathing ability.
  • A pulmonary rehabilitation program aims to improve your well-being through exercise, nutrition, psychological counseling, and training on managing the disease and its symptoms.
  • Lung transplant, in severe cases where symptoms cannot be improved with other interventions.
  • Healthy lifestyle changes, including quitting smoking, avoiding irritants like secondhand smoke, exercising regularly, and practicing good nutrition.

Where to Find Quality Treatment For Bronchitis

Lompoc Valley Medical Center is home to many medical providers who are trained and experienced in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of acute and chronic bronchitis. Visit our provider page today to make an appointment.