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Alternative Names Return to topInflammation - bronchi
Definition Return to top
Bronchitis is an inflammation of the main air passages to the lungs. Bronchitis may be short-lived (acute) or chronic, meaning that it lasts a long time and often recurs.
See also: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Causes Return to top
Acute bronchitis generally follows a viral respiratory infection. At first, it affects your nose, sinuses, and throat and then spreads to the lungs. Sometimes, you may get another (secondary) bacterial infection in the airways.This means that bacteria infect the airways, in addition to the virus.
People at risk for acute bronchitis include:
Chronic bronchitis is a long-term condition. People have a cough that produces excessive mucus. To be diagnosed with chronic bronchitis, you must have a cough with mucus most days of the month for at least 3 months.
Chronic bronchitis is also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD for short. (Emphysema is another type of COPD.) As the condition gets worse, you become increasingly short of breath, have difficulty walking or exerting yourself physically, and may need supplemental oxygen on a regular basis.
Cigarette smoke, including long-term exposure to second-hand smoke, is the main cause of chronic bronchitis. The severity of the disease often relates to how much you smoked or how long you were exposed to the smoke.
The following things can make bronchitis worse:
Symptoms Return to top
The symptoms of either type of bronchitis may include:
Even after acute bronchitis has cleared, you may have a dry, nagging cough that lingers for several weeks.
Additional symptoms of chronic bronchitis include:
Exams and Tests Return to top
The health care provider will listen to your lungs with a stethoscope. Abnormal sounds in the lungs called rales or other abnormal breathing sounds may be heard.
Tests may include:
Treatment Return to top
You DO NOT need antibiotics for acute bronchitis caused by a virus. The infection will generally go away on its own within 1 week. Take the following steps for some relief:
If your symptoms do not improve, your doctor may prescribe an inhaler to open your airways. If your doctor thinks that you have a secondary bacterial infection, antibiotics will be prescribed.
For chronic bronchitis, the most important step you can take is to QUIT smoking. If caught early enough, you can reverse the damage to your lungs. Other important steps include:
Your doctor will usually prescribe inhaled medicines for chronic bronchitis. These drugs, which include bronchodilators like albuterol and ipratropium, open your airways and help clear mucus. A bronchodilator taken by mouth (theophylline) and steroids (either inhaled or by mouth) are often necessary as well. If you have an active infection, your doctor will put you on antibiotics. You may also need antibiotics to prevent infection.
If you have low oxygen levels, home oxygen will be used.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
For acute bronchitis, symptoms usually go away within 7 to 10 days if you do not have an underlying lung disorder. However, a dry, hacking cough can linger for a number of months.
The chance for recovery is poor for persons with advanced chronic bronchitis. Early recognition and treatment, combined with smoking cessation, significantly improve the chance of a good outcome.
Possible Complications Return to top
Pneumonia can develop from either acute or chronic bronchitis. If you have chronic bronchitis, you are more likely to develop recurrent respiratory infections. You may also develop:
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call your doctor if:
Prevention Return to top
References Return to top
Gwaltney JM. Acute bronchitis. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2005:chap 58.
GOLD Scientific Committee. Global Strategy for the Diagnosis, Management, and Prevention of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: GOLD Executive Summary updated 2006.Update Date: 9/24/2008 Updated by: Benjamin Medoff, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Pulmonary and Critical Care Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.