Bronchitis is an infection of the main airways of the lungs (bronchi), causing them to become irritated and inflamed. The bronchi branch off on either side of your windpipe (trachea). They lead to smaller and smaller airways inside your lungs, known as bronchioles. The walls of the bronchi produce mucus to trap dust and other particles that could otherwise cause irritation.
- Production of mucus (sputum), which can be clear, white, yellowish-gray or green in color — rarely, it may be streaked with blood
- Shortness of breath
- Slight fever and chills
- Chest discomfort
Factors that increase your risk of bronchitis include:
- Cigarette smoke. People who smoke or who live with a smoker are at higher risk of both acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis.
- Low resistance. This may result from another acute illness, such as a cold, or from a chronic condition that compromises your immune system. Older adults, infants and young children have greater vulnerability to infection.
- Exposure to irritants on the job. Your risk of developing bronchitis is greater if you work around certain lung irritants, such as grains or textiles, or are exposed to chemical fumes.
- Gastric reflux. Repeated bouts of severe heartburn can irritate your throat and make you more prone to developing bronchitis.
Although it is not always possible to prevent acute or chronic bronchitis, there are several things that can reduce the risk:
- Do not start smoking; quit smoking if you already smoke.
- Avoid lung irritants such as smoke, dust, fumes, vapors, and air pollution. If avoiding exposure is not possible, wear a mask that covers the nose and mouth.
- Wash hands often to limit exposure to germs and bacteria.
- Get a yearly flu vaccine.
- Get a pneumonia vaccine.
When to see your GP
- your cough is severe or lasts longer than 3 weeks
- you have a constant fever of 38C or above for more than 3 days – this may be a sign of flu or a more serious condition, such as pneumonia
- you cough up mucus streaked with blood
- you have an underlying heart or lung condition, such as asthma, heart failure or emphysema
- you're breathing rapidly (more than 30 breaths a minute) or develop chest pains
- you become drowsy or confused
- you've had repeated episodes of bronchitis
Treatments for Bronchitis
People suffering from bronchitis are usually instructed to rest, drink fluids, breath warm and moist air, and take OTC cough suppressants and pain relievers to manage symptoms and ease breathing.
Cough medicine - although coughing should not be completely suppressed as this is an important way to bring up mucus and remove irritants from the lungs. If you want to buy cough medicine, then there is an excellent selection online with thousands of customer reviews.
Bronchodilators - these open the bronchial tubes and clear out mucus.
Mucolytic - these thin or loosen mucus in the airways, making it easier to cough up sputum.
Anti-inflammatory - these are for more persistent symptoms to help decrease chronic inflammation that may cause tissue damage.
Oxygen therapy - this helps improve oxygen intake when breathing is difficult.
Antibiotics - these are effective for bacterial infections, but not for viral infections. They may also prevent secondary infections.