Chronic Bronchitis Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention, Home Remedies

Chronic Bronchitis Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention, Home Remedies

What is bronchitis?

Bronchitis means that the tubes that carry air to the lungs camera (the bronchial tubes) are inflamed and irritated. When this happens, the tubes swell and produce mucus. This makes you cough.

There are two types of bronchitis:

  • Acute bronchitis usually comes on quickly and gets better after 2 to 3 weeks. Most healthy people who get acute bronchitis get better without any problems. See a picture of acute bronchitis camera.
  • Chronic bronchitis keeps coming back and can last a long time, especially in people who smoke. Chronic bronchitis means you have a cough with mucus most days of the month for 3 months of the year for at least 2 years in a row.

What is chronic bronchitis?

Chronic bronchitis (pronounced Bron-KI-tis) is an inflammatory condition of the airways. Your airway consists of tubes that connect your windpipe with your lungs. When the airway becomes inflamed by pollution, fumes, cigarette smoke, or other irritants, it swells in an effort to close itself and protect the lungs from the irritant. As a result, less air is able to flow to and from the lungs.

Chronic Bronchitis Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention, Home Remedies

The lungs work to protect themselves too. While your airways are tightening to fend off the irritants, the lungs produce mucus or sputum to clear away the irritation. This causes you to cough and bring up some of the mucus. It can also make breathing very labored and uncomfortable.

Chronic bronchitis, like emphysema, is classified as one of the Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases, also known as COPD, and there are two types – acute and chronic. Acute bronchitis may occur after you have had a viral respiratory infection or cold, and it can be treated with antibiotics, but chronic bronchitis is far more serious, and more common.

The word “chronic” means repetitive or lasting a long time. If you have chronic bronchitis, you will have suffered with a mucus producing cough most days for at least three months a year for two successive years. It’s a long-term disease, not an infection, and there is no cure.

Causes of Chronic Bronchitis

The most common cause of chronic bronchitis is cigarette smoking, and the persistent cough is sometimes dismissed as being a “smoker’s cough”. This assumption can be dangerous, because the earlier chronic bronchitis is detected and treated, the greater the chance for improvement. If you have a persistent cough, see your doctor.

Cigarette smoking is not the only cause of chronic bronchitis. In nonsmokers, causes of the disease include:

  • Second-hand smoke
  • Air pollution
  • Industrial dust (Frequently associated with certain occupations like coal mining)
  • Chemical fumes
  • Chronic asthma
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Chronic lung infections
People over age 45 are more likely to have chronic bronchitis, and more women get bronchitis than men.

What are the symptoms of chronic bronchitis?

The following are the most common symptoms for chronic bronchitis. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • cough
  • expectoration (spitting out) of mucus
Chronic bronchitis may cause:

  • frequent and severe respiratory infections
  • narrowing and plugging of the breathing tubes (bronchi)
  • difficult breathing
  • disability
Other symptoms may include:

  • lips and skin may appear blue
  • abnormal lung signs
  • swelling of the feet
  • heart failure
The symptoms of chronic bronchitis may resemble other lung conditions or medical problems. Consult your physician for a diagnosis.

How is chronic bronchitis diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, your physician may request the following:

Pulmonary function tests - diagnostic tests that help to measure the lungs' ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide appropriately. The tests are usually performed with special machines that the person must breathe into, and may include the following:
  • Spirometry - a spirometer is a device used by your physician that assesses lung function. Spirometry, the evaluation of lung function with a spirometer, is one of the simplest, most common pulmonary function tests and may be necessary for any/all of the following reasons:
  • to determine how well the lungs receive, hold, and utilize air
  • to monitor a lung disease
  • to monitor the effectiveness of treatment
  • to determine the severity of a lung disease 
  • to determine whether the lung disease is restrictive (decreased airflow) or obstructive (disruption of airflow)

  •  Pak flow monitoring (PFM) - a device used to measure the fastest speed in which a person can blow air out of the lungs. During an asthma or other respiratory flare up, the large airways in the lungs slowly begin to narrow. This will slow the speed of air leaving the lungs and can be measured by a PFM. This measurement is very important in evaluating how well or how poorly the disease is being controlled.
Arterial blood gas (ABG) - a blood test that is used to evaluate the lungs' ability to provide blood with oxygen and remove carbon dioxide, and to measure the pH (acidity) of the blood.

Pulse oximetry - an oximeter is a small machine that measures the amount of oxygen in the blood. To obtain this measurement, a small sensor (like a Band-Aid) is taped onto a finger or toe. When the machine is on, a small red light can be seen in the sensor. The sensor is painless and the red light does not get hot.

X-ray - a diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.

Computed tomography scan (Also called a CT or CAT scan.) - a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays.

Treatment for Chronic Bronchitis

While acute or short-lived bronchitis will typically clear up within a week, there is no cure for chronic bronchitis. Your doctor will work with you to relieve your symptoms and make breathing easier. Your recovery will largely depend upon how far your chronic bronchitis has advanced.

Bronchitis makes you more susceptible to upper respiratory infections, right-sided heart failure, emphysema, and pulmonary hypertension. So, it is important to carefully monitor your condition.

There are several types of therapies that your doctor may recommend, including:

Inhaled medicines

Inhaled medicines, like bronchodilators, are used to help open the airways and expel mucus. You will use an inhaler to draw the medicine into your lungs. 

Ingested medicines or pills

Pills, like theophylline or steroids, may be prescribed in severe cases of chronic bronchitis, especially when asthma is also present. The pills are most often designed to reduce swelling in your airway. Your doctor may also prescribe an antibiotic if an infection is present in the lungs. 

Oxygen therapy 

If your doctor determines that your oxygen level is low or if your lungs have been damaged by chronic bronchitis, he or she may suggest that you use oxygen therapy. A small device will supply extra oxygen to your airway to make breathing easier. 

Pulmonary rehabilitation

Pulmonary rehabilitation is administered by a respiratory therapist. The therapist will work with you through a series of exercises to strength your lungs, improve your lung capacity, and get you breathing easier.

When should I call my caregiver?

Call your caregiver if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You use your inhalers more often than usual.
  • You have new or increased swelling in your legs, ankles, or abdomen.
  • You run out of breath easily when you talk or do your usual exercise or activities.
  • You have any questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Prevention and Home Remedies for chronic bronchitis?

Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around you: If you smoke, it is never too late to quit.

Use breathing techniques you have been taught: Your caregiver may recommend that you do special breathing exercises such as cough and deep breathing or pursed lip breathing.

Follow up with your caregiver as directed: Write down your questions so you will remember to ask them during your follow-up visits.

Avoid alcohol: Alcohol dulls your urge to cough and sneeze. When you have bronchitis, you need to be able to cough and sneeze to clear your air passages. Alcohol also causes your body to lose fluid. This can make the mucus in your lungs thicker and harder to cough up.

Drink more liquids: Most people should drink at least 8 eight-ounce cups of water a day. You may need to drink more liquids when you have chronic bronchitis. Liquids help keep your air passages moist and help you cough up mucus.

Get more rest: You may feel like resting more. Slowly start to do more each day. Rest when you feel it is needed. Sleep with your upper body propped up with pillows. This will help you breathe more easily.

Eat healthy foods: Eat fruits, vegetables, breads, and protein (such as chicken, fish, and beans). Dairy products (such as milk, cheese, and ice cream) can sometimes increase the amount of mucus your body makes. Ask your caregiver if you should eat fewer dairy products.

What is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

COPD is a term that refers to a large group of lung diseases which can interfere with normal breathing. More than 12 million Americans have COPD, and an additional 12 million may have impaired lung function, suggesting it may be significantly under-reported. As many as 24 million people may be affected. The two most common conditions of COPD are chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

The causes of COPD are not fully understood. It is generally agreed that the most important cause of chronic bronchitis and emphysema is cigarette smoking. Causes such as air pollution and occupational exposures may play a role, especially when combined with cigarette smoking. Heredity also plays a contributing role in some patients' emphysema, and is especially important in a rare form - due to alpha 1 anti-trypsin deficiency.

Patients with chronic bronchitis usually have a cough and sputum production for many years before they develop shortness of breath.

Patients with emphysema usually have shortness of breath and develop a cough and sputum during a respiratory infection, or in the later stages of the illness.