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What is Bronchitis?

January 07, 2016  |  Difficulty: Easy

bronchitis

How the Bronchi Get Infected

The main bronchi have relatively large lumens that are lined by respiratory epithelium. This cellular lining is covered by cilia, which are slender, microscopic, hair-like structures. These hairs flutter in the opposite direction of the inhaled air to keep the airways clear of mucus and dirt, allowing us to breathe easily and without irritation. If there is an inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, the delicate balance is corrupted, and results in breathing problems and the potential for subsequent respiratory diseases.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

In acute bronchitis, coughing usually lasts between 10 to 20 days. Chronic bronchitis is defined as a mucus-producing cough that lasts for at least three months in two consecutive years.  You may have acute bronchitis if you have a dry cough for a week or more or, later, a moist cough with mucus; if you are short of breath; or if you are tired for no reason. Your body temperature may be slightly elevated to about 38.5°C (101°F) for about four days. A higher temperature, or a fever that isn't gone within a week, may suggest a bacterial infection such as pneumonia. It's important to see a doctor in this situation. Fever is unusual and suggests pneumonia or flu.

The early stages of chronic bronchitis are characterized by a heavy morning expectoration of the phlegm that had accumulated during sleep in a horizontal position. Infection of the lung tissue leads to the formation of heavy phlegm, which causes the inhaled air to spread unevenly in the lungs. In late, severe stages, patients suffer from insufficient blood oxygenation (hypoxia) resulting in cyanosis, which is an abnormal blue discoloration of the skin and lips (also called "blue bloaters").

Treatment

For acute bronchitis there is no need for prescribing antibiotics since nine out of 10 cases are caused by viruses, not by bacteria. Generally it is necessary to relieve the symptoms. You should drink a lot of liquids and it is optional to use expectorant to help loosen mucus so it can more easily be coughed up. Drinking herbal tea may help breathing. Avoid stress and air pollution as well as any irritants that may cause further breathing problems.

There is no cure for chronic bronchitis. Treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms and preventing complications. Quit smoking and avoid other airborne irritants. The use of bronchodilator medication can be suggested to open obstructed airways in people who have associated wheezing with their coughing, or underlying asthma or COPD.  If you have chronic bronchitis, do not go out for a walk if the air quality is significantly impaired. Lying down at night can worsen the condition, so some people with advanced chronic bronchitis must sleep sitting up.

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