Bronchitis: Symptoms, Causes, Types, Treatment & More

Written By: Dr. Mohammed Harriss

Dr. Mohammed Harriss is a pulmonology specialist who has completed the MBBS, MD, DTCD and  DNB degrees and is a member of the Royal College of Physicians, UK. He has completed the European Diploma in Intensive care and a Masters degree in Sleep Medicine from Oxford University, UK. He has also completed the European Diploma in Respiratory Medicine - Paediatric. 

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What is Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is a medical condition in which your airways become inflamed & constricted due to excessive mucus. Commonly known as a ‘sore throat’ or ‘cold’, bronchitis can affect people of all ages & is usually not a serious concern with proper treatment.

Symptoms of Bronchitis

Bronchitis symptoms arise due to irritation of the walls of the bronchi, which are large tubes that carry air into your lungs. You could have bronchitis if you experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Severe cough
  • Sputum, which can be clear, white, yellow, yellowish-green, or rarely blood-tinged
  • Discomfort or pain in the throat or chest
  • Breathlessness
  • Fever 
  • Chills
  • Headache

When to Visit a Doctor for Bronchitis?

Check in with your doctor if you have a persistent cough for three weeks with sputum. 

If you experience more severe symptoms of bronchitis such as wheezing, choking, or difficulty in breathing or sleeping, you should seek medical help immediately.

Causes of Bronchitis

The airway is lined by a mucus membrane which is highly sensitive to irritants. This causes a responsive increase in mucus production, as well as a thickening of the muscular layer within the walls of the bronchi.

Irritants that can cause bronchitis are:

  • Tobacco
  • Dust, especially if it contains asbestos, coal, cotton, silica, etc.
  • Smog & chemical fumes such as those containing sulfur dioxide or nitrogen dioxide
  • Gastric reflux
  • Viral strains, such as those that are responsible for influenza & certain bacteria also play an important role in causing & maintaining bronchitis.

Cause of Bronchitis in Babies

The same factors can contribute to bronchitis in babies, producing dry cough or cough with sputum. Your child might also have:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Fever
  • Back pain
  • General discomfort
  • Gagging

Bronchiolitis, a similar condition affecting smaller airways called bronchioles, is common in children under the age of two. It is usually caused by the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). The symptoms of bronchiolitis are the same as those of bronchitis & usually resolve without elaborate treatment. However, some children might require more medical attention.

Types of Bronchitis

Bronchitis can be categorized into two main types depending on the duration of the condition & the consequent symptoms:

  • Acute Bronchitis
  • Chronic Bronchitis

Acute Bronchitis

Acute bronchitis, or ‘chest cold,’ is a term used to describe short-term bronchitis.  Acute bronchitis symptoms such as fever, chills, or fatigue, might subside in a period of 7 to 10 days. However, coughing might linger for a few weeks until your airway heals. In most cases, acute bronchitis does not generally require a lot of medical attention as long as you take relevant medication & avoid smoking & other irritants.

Chronic Bronchitis

Acute bronchitis can progress to chronic bronchitis if you don’t seek treatment or complete the prescribed course of treatment. Chronic bronchitis is defined as a persistent cough, often called ‘smoker’s cough,’ with sputum in recurring phases lasting at least 3 months each for 2 consecutive years. Smoking is a prominent cause of the development of chronic bronchitis.

You are likely to experience extreme fatigue as the typical bronchitis symptoms worsen. As the disease progresses, you might experience:

  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Blue-ish discoloration or pallor of the skin, particularly the lips due to a lack of oxygen

Risk Factors for Bronchitis

The chances of developing bronchitis & experiencing harsher symptoms increase significantly based on biological & lifestyle factors. When evaluating the possibility of having bronchitis, you should be mindful of the following influences:

  • Age, with very old or young individuals may have a weak immune system, resulting in recurrent infections
  • Premature birth
  • Bottle-fed babies can lack certain antibodies, contained in breast milk, which could prove useful in strengthening the immune system
  • Being unvaccinated for influenza viruses
  • Smoking, with 90% of chronic bronchitis patients having a history of smoking
  • Occupational hazards, such as working in chemical factories 
  • Pollution 
  • Asthma

Complications of Bronchitis

Without treatment, chronic bronchitis can lead to a number of complications that can be potentially life-threatening. However, some of these might take years to develop:

  • Respiratory Failure: With worsening air condition, chronic bronchitis can result in reduced pulmonary function that eventually leads to the inability of your lungs to oxygenate blood

  • Cor Pulmonale (Right-Sided Heart Failure): Increasing pressure in your lungs can burden the right side of your heart, causing it to work harder to pump blood into your pulmonary circulation

  • Pneumonia: The collection of mucus forms a fertile bed for all sorts of infection, damaging your lungs even more

  • COPD: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder or COPD refers to the presence of both chronic bronchitis & emphysema

Treatment of Bronchitis

Bronchitis treatment mainly involves treating the underlying infection or getting rid of the stimulus (avoiding dust or chemicals). Unless you are at risk of complications, most cases of bronchitis resolve easily without the need for extensive treatment.

Your doctor might prescribe one or more of the following medications:

  • Antibiotics for bacterial infection
  • Cough syrup
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen for pain or fever
  • Bronchodilators to keep your airway open

In severe cases of chronic bronchitis, you might require additional oxygen supply through portable oxygen cylinders. Surgery to remove excessively damaged areas of your lungs could help prevent further complications. A lung transplant is a last resort & is required in very rare cases.

Home Remedies for Bronchitis

You can manage symptoms of bronchitis at home with the help of a few handy tips:

  • Increase your fluid intake to thin out the sputum
  • Honey & lemon can work wonders for cough & sore throat treatment
  • Get enough rest
  • Use a humidifier or steam to help clear out your nose & throat
  • Eat healthy
  • Salt water gargles & lozenges can effectively help with your sore throat & associated pain

Prevention of Bronchitis

Fortunately, bronchitis can be easily prevented with good hygiene. You can avoid getting infected by keeping clean by implementing these simple measures:

  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Wear a mask to avoid inhaling any toxic substances or dust
  • Avoid contact or sharing food & drinks with people who might have a cold
  • Stay up to date with your flu shots
  • Avoid smoking 
  • Manage your allergies

Reach out to us for more information regarding the symptoms, causes, types, & treatment of bronchitis. 

Meet our doctors from the Pulmonology department

Assem Eid Youssef
MRCP (UK), MBBS, MD, Master (Respiratory medicine)
Pulmonology
Egyptian
Arabic, English
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Mohammed Harriss
MBBS, MD, DTCD, DNB, MRCP (UK), EDIC, EDRM, MSc -Sleep, (UK)
Pulmonology
Indian
Arabic, English, Hindi, Malayalam
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