It is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the airways that carry air to your lungs. It causes a cough that often brings up mucus. It can also cause shortness of breath, wheezing, a low fever, and chest tightness. There are two main types of bronchitis: acute and chronic. Bronchitis can be described as being either:
- acute bronchitis – temporary inflammation of the airways, causing a cough and mucus production, lasting up to three weeks; acute bronchitis can affect people of all ages but mostly affects children under the age of five; it’s more common in winter and often develops following a common cold, sore throat or flu
- chronic bronchitis – a daily productive cough that lasts for three months of the year and for at least two years in a row; chronic bronchitis is one of a number of lung conditions, including emphysema, that are collectively known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); it mostly affects adults over 40
It’s important that you stop smoking if you smoke and you have bronchitis.
Cigarette smoke and the chemicals in cigarettes make bronchitis worse and increase your risk of developing chronic bronchitis and COPD.
What is acute bronchitis?
Acute bronchitis is inflammation of your bronchial tree. The bronchial tree consists of tubes that carry air into your lungs. When these tubes get infected, they swell and mucus (thick fluid) forms inside them. This makes it hard for you to breathe.
Acute bronchitis only lasts a short time (several weeks or less). Chronic bronchitis is long lasting and can reoccur. It usually is caused by constant irritation, such as from smoking.
Symptoms of acute bronchitis
The symptoms of acute bronchitis can include:
- a sore throat
- a cough that brings up clear, yellow, or green mucus
- chest congestion
- shortness of breath
- body aches
Your cough can last for several weeks or months. This happens because the bronchial tree takes a while to heal. A lasting cough may signal another problem, such as asthma or pneumonia.
What causes acute bronchitis?
Viruses most often cause acute bronchitis. They attack the lining of the bronchial tree and cause inflammation. The same viruses that cause colds can cause acute bronchitis. You can catch a virus from breathing it in or skin contact. As your body fights these viruses, swelling occurs and mucus is produced. It takes time for your body to kill the viruses and heal damage to your bronchial tubes.
Lesser-known causes are bacteria or fungal infections. Exposure to irritants, such as smoke, dust, or fumes, also can cause acute bronchitis. You are at greater risk if your bronchial tree already has damage. If you have GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), also known as heartburn, you can get acute bronchitis when stomach acid gets into the bronchial tree.
What is chronic bronchitis?
Chronic Bronchitis (CB) is defined as a chronic cough and sputum production for at least 3 months a year for 2 consecutive years It is covered under the umbrella term of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). The COPD spectrum ranges from Emphysema to Chronic Bronchitis and it occurs when the airways become inflamed and the air sacs in your lungs are damaged. Emphysema occurs when your alveolar membrane breaks down whereas CB is the inflammation and excessive mucus build-up in your bronchi. Many patients have characteristics of both, putting them somewhere along the spectrum.
What are the causes of chronic bronchitis?
- There can be many causes of chronic bronchitis, but the main cause is cigarette smoke. Statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that about 49% of smokers develop chronic bronchitis and 24% develop emphysema/COPD
- Many other inhaled irritants (for example, smog, industrial pollutants, and solvents) can also result in chronic bronchitis
- Viral and bacterial infections that result in acute bronchitis may lead to chronic bronchitis if people have repeated bouts with infectious agents
- Also, underlying disease processes (for example, asthma, cystic fibrosis, immunodeficiency, congestive heart failure, familial genetic predisposition to bronchitis, and congenital or acquired dilation of the bronchioles, known as bronchiectasis) may cause chronic bronchitis to develop, but these are infrequent causes compared to cigarette smoking.
The major signs and symptoms of chronic bronchitis are:
- Cough and sputum production are the most common symptoms. They usually last for at least 3 months and occur daily. The intensity of coughing and the amount and frequency of sputum production vary from patient to patient. Sputum may be clear, yellowish, greenish, or occasionally, blood-tinged. Since cigarette smoke is the most common cause of chronic bronchitis, it should not be surprising that the most common presentation is so-called smoker’s cough. This is characterized by a cough that tends to be worse upon arising and is often productive of discoloured mucus in the early part of the day. As the day progresses, less mucus is produced.
- Shortness of breath (dyspnea) gradually increases with the severity of the disease. Usually, people with chronic bronchitis get short of breath with activity and begin coughing; dyspnea at rest usually signals that COPD or emphysema has developed.
- Wheezing (a coarse whistling sound produced when airways are partially obstructed) often occurs.
Other signs and symptoms that may accompany chronic bronchitis include
- a sore throat
- muscle aches
- nasal congestion