Diseases & Conditions


BronchitisCausesDiagnosisPreventionRisk FactorsSymptomsTreatmentTypes

What is Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is an illness characterized by inflammation of the mucous membranes that line the bronchi, which are the pathways that carry air from trachea to the lungs.

Causes of Bronchitis

  • Bronchitis occurs mostly during the flu and cold season, and is normally associated with upper respiratory tract infection.
  • Viruses such as Influenza A and Influenza B can cause bronchitis to develop.
  • Bacteria such as mycoplasma pneumoniae also cause bronchitis
  • A person inhaling irritating fumes, chemical solvents, dust or cigarette smoke may develop bronchitis.

Diagnosis of Bronchitis

Bronchitis is diagnosed by physical examination and going through the patient’s medical history. The health care provider may want to examine the patient’s respiratory airways and look for signs of nose, ear or throat infection. He may check for redness of lymphatic membranes, post nasal drip, and runny nose. Swelling and redness of tonsils helps in distinguishing it from tonsillitis and common cold. The doctor may examine the neck for swollen lymph nodes and listen to the lungs for signs of wheezing and decreased air entry. A chest x-ray may be recommended if the doctor is concerned about lung infection or pneumonia.

Prevention of Bronchitis

  • Quit smoking and try not to be exposed to second hand smoke. Babies, especially, should never be exposed to second hand smoke.
  • Try and avoid exposure to irritants. Protect yourself adequately in the work place.
  • Avoid exposure to vehicular pollution and other types of air pollution.

Risk Factors of Bronchitis

There are several risk factors that contribute to the onset of bronchitis.

  • Smoking is a major risk factor. Even secondary smokers are at a risk of developing bronchitis.
  • Other illnesses that produce similar inflammation increase the risk of bronchitis. (e.g. Asthma, allergies to airborne allergens etc)
  • The elderly and those who have weak immune systems can contract bronchitis.
  • Those people who are regularly exposed to lung irritants are at a greater risk of developing bronchitis.

Symptoms of Bronchitis

When the bronchial tubes get inflamed, their inside opening becomes narrow. This narrowing results in difficulty in breathing. Wheezing, shortness of breath and cough may be observed. Sputum may be expectorated due to the secretions that block the bronchial airways. These secretions may contain inflammatory cells, in which case, the sputum may be yellow or green in color. The severity of the inflammation may cause bleeding.

A person suffering from bronchitis may also develop low grade fever, aches, chills, soreness, malaise or fatigue, sore throat and watery eyes.

Treatment of Bronchitis

Treatment for bronchitis aims at decreasing inflammation. Albuterol inhalation, with a nebulizer or hand held device helps in dilating the bronchial tubes. Short term steroid therapy helps in minimizing inflammation in the bronchial tubes. Prednisone, a medication which can enhance the anti inflammatory capacity of natural steroids produced by adrenal glands, may be prescribed. Topical inhaled steroids having fewer side effects may also be recommended. Fever is usually treated with ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Drinking plenty of fluid is also recommended as this helps in dilating the bronchial secretions so that they can be easily expelled. Bronchitis medications such as Robitussin, Mucinex that have guaifenesin can also help expel the secretions. Antibiotics are only prescribed in case of bacterial infection.

Types of Bronchitis

There are 2 kinds of bronchitis, acute and chronic, both with their own distinctive etiologies, therapies and pathologies. Acute bronchitis is characterized by the presence of cough, with or without sputum which is expectorated through the respiratory tract. Chronic bronchitis is an obstructive pulmonary illness characterized by the development of a productive cough lasting for 3 or more months in a year continuously for 2 years or more. It may develop as a result of recurrent damage to airways due to inhaled irritants.