Bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of your bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from your lungs. Bronchitis may be either acute or chronic.
Often developing from a cold or other respiratory infection, acute bronchitis is very common. Chronic bronchitis, a more serious condition, is a constant irritation or inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, often due to smoking.
Acute bronchitis usually improves within a few days without lasting effects, although you may continue to cough for weeks. However, if you have repeated bouts of bronchitis, you may have chronic bronchitis, which requires medical attention. Chronic bronchitis is one of the conditions included in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Treatment for bronchitis focuses on relieving your symptoms and easing your breathing.
For either acute bronchitis or chronic bronchitis, signs and symptoms may include:
If you have acute bronchitis, you may have a nagging cough that lingers for several weeks after the bronchitis resolves. Chronic bronchitis is defined as a productive cough that lasts at least three months for two consecutive years. If you have chronic bronchitis, you're likely to have periods when your signs and symptoms worsen. At those times, you may have acute bronchitis on top of your chronic bronchitis. In some cases, the cough may disappear only to reappear later.
When to see a doctor
Acute bronchitis is usually caused by viruses, typically the same viruses that cause colds and influenza. Antibiotics don't kill viruses, so this type of medication isn't useful in most cases of bronchitis.
The most common cause of chronic bronchitis is smoking cigarettes. Air pollution and dust or toxic gases in the environment or workplace also can contribute to the condition.
Factors that increase your risk of bronchitis include:
Although a single episode of bronchitis usually isn't cause for concern, it can lead to pneumonia in some people. Repeated bouts of bronchitis may signal:
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. If you have chronic bronchitis, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in lung diseases (pulmonologist).
What you can do
You might also want to bring a family member or friend to your appointment. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember all the information provided. Someone who accompanies you may remember something that you missed or forgot.
If you've ever seen another physician for your cough, let your present doctor know what tests were done, and if possible, bring the reports with you, including results of a chest X-ray, sputum culture and pulmonary function test.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
During the first few days of illness, it can be difficult to distinguish the signs and symptoms of bronchitis from those of a common cold. During the physical exam, your doctor will use a stethoscope to listen closely to your lungs as you breathe.
In some cases, your doctor may suggest:
A spirometer is a diagnostic device that measures the amount of air you're able to breathe in and out and the time it takes you to exhale completely after you take a deep breath. ...
Treatments and drugs
The goal of treatment for bronchitis is to relieve symptoms and ease breathing. In most cases, acute bronchitis requires only self-care treatments such as:
Lifestyle and home remedies
To reduce your risk of bronchitis, follow these tips:
Last Updated: 2011-04-21
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