wikiHow to Recognize Bronchitis Symptoms

Two Methods:Understanding Acute BronchitisUnderstanding Chronic Bronchitis

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the airways of the lower respiratory system. It can be either acute or chronic and viral or bacterial. It occur in patients of all ages. If you think you might have bronchitis, follow a few simple steps to recognize which kind of bronchitis you have and how to get treatment.

Method 1
Understanding Acute Bronchitis

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    Inform yourself about acute bronchitis. Acute bronchitis is the inflammation and infection of the lower respiratory tract. For it to be acute, the condition typically lasts for less than three weeks. Acute bronchitis can be due to viral or bacterial etiologies. It can even be caused by a combination of both if you end up with a case of secondary bronchitis infection.
    • About 90% of acute bronchitis infections cases are viral, which come from many viruses such as the adenovirus, rhinovirus, influenza virus, and coronavirus.[1]
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    Look for a cough. The most common symptom of bronchitis is a cough. With acute bronchitis, the cough will start out dry and hacking. After a few days, the cough will begin to produce sputum. Sputum is a type of loose mucus that can be clear, white, yellowish, and green colored. Sometimes, if the cough is harsh enough, it may be blood-tinged.[2]
    • Although cough is the primary symptom of bronchitis, it can be a symptom of many other diseases as well such as pneumonia, asthma, or cancer. If this is your only symptom, look for other symptoms as well to pinpoint exactly which condition you have.
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    Watch out for other common symptoms. There will likely be runny nose or nasal congestion, at least to some degree. You may run a slight fever and have chills with acute bronchitis. There may be wheezing, especially at night, or shortness of breath. This wheezing and coughing can also cause chest discomfort. There may also be some pain associated with very strong coughing fits, which can cause the muscles between the ribs to become sore.
    • It is possible to break or fracture a rib from strong coughing.
    • If your fever is exceptionally high, you may have another condition such as pneumonia because a high fever is not common with bronchitis.[3]
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    See your doctor for diagnosis. There are no tests known or commonly performed to diagnose acute bronchitis. Especially in the early stages of the condition, acute bronchitis looks a lot like the common cold. In order to get diagnosed with acute bronchitis, your doctor will run a series of tests that will rule out other conditions that present with similar symptoms to bronchitis. The doctor will first perform a physical exam where he or she checks your ears, nose, throat, and temperature. He or she will also listen to your lungs with a stethoscope to listen for lung congestion.
    • The doctor may also order a sputum test. He or she will take a sample of your sputum and test it for viruses and bacteria such as whooping cough. The sputum can also be tested to see if you have allergies that is causing the cough.
    • Your doctor may also do a pulmonary function test, where you blow into a device called a spirometer. This device tests how much air your lungs can hold and how quickly you can expel air from them. This will help rule out asthma and emphysema.
    • If you have an elevated fever or other signs or symptoms suggestive of pneumonia, the doctor might give you a chest X-ray to rule it out.[4]
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    Get treatment for acute bronchitis. Most bronchitis is viral, which means that antibiotics do not help. If this is the case, your doctor might suggest the simple treatment of rest, lots of fluids, and fever-reducing over-the-counter medication. He or she may also suggest the use of a humidifier to help loosen mucus and help coughing, a burst of oral steroids or an inhaler for three to five days if there is significant wheezing, and, rarely, cough medicine.
    • If your doctor suspects that your bronchitis may be bacterial, he or she may prescribe you antibiotics. Since most acute bronchitis is viral, this likely won't be the case. However, there has been an increase in antibiotic prescription for bronchitis in recent years, despite this fact.[5]
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    Be aware of infant bronchitis. Acute bronchitis is not diagnosed until a child turns two years old. If you have a child younger than that who presents symptoms similar to acute bronchitis, she likely has bronchiolitis, which is a conditions caused by respiratory syncytial l virus or other viruses. It is associated with a higher mortality and morbidity rate in small children due to their low immunity.
    • This condition presents with a cough that sounds congested that is usually without sputum production, since infants typically won’t give you sputum. I can also be accompanied by a high fever and wheezing or trouble breathing. RSV bronchiolitis can turn into pneumonia and occurs most often in children under one year. It occurs more often in premature infants.
    • To test for RSV bronchiolitis, there is a quick and easy test available in most emergency rooms that test nasal secretions from the child for the virus.
    • Children with bronchiolitis are sometimes admitted to the hospital for close observation and supportive care with breathing treatments to open the airways, suctioning, fluids if they aren't drinking well, supplemental oxygen, and antibiotics if they have a bacterial infection. [6]

Method 2
Understanding Chronic Bronchitis

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    Obtain information about chronic bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis affects over 10 million people in the US and is responsible for 40,000 deaths. [7] It is condition that lasts at least three months and occurs at least two years in a row. It is caused by inflammation that is accompanied by swelling and excessive mucus production. This causes the lungs to lose their cilia, which are the hair-like appendages that help move mucus and other substances through the respiratory system. When this happens, the mucus stays stationary, which causes the growth of bacteria and stops up the airways.[8]
    • The primary cause of chronic bronchitis is tobacco use. Because of this, chronic bronchitis is a common precursor to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema. [9]
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    Be aware of the risks. The people at the most risk of chronic bronchitis are those who are or have been heavy smokers. You are also at risk if you have had severe bacterial or viral infections that affected the lungs or if you breathed in industrial dusts and fumes. When tobacco smoke or air pollutants such as dust or soot is breathed into the airways, it causes them to become irritated. The cells of the lower respiratory tract that secrete mucus, the goblet cells, go into overdrive. This causes them to secrete mucus at a very high rate into the respiratory passages, which causes a chronic cough.[10]
    • Research indicates that inflammation of the airways persists for more than 13 years after a person has stopped smoking.
    • People with occupations such as metal molders, grain handlers, and coal miners are at an increased risk due to the excessive environmental irritants.[11][12]
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    Recognize the symptoms. The main symptom of chronic bronchitis is sputum production from a cough that occurs every day for at least three months, which reoccurs at least two years in a row. The mucus causes obstructions to airways, and this causes even thicker mucus as a consequence. Unlike acute bronchitis which starts within in a few days, chronic bronchitis's onset is gradual. The mucus produced is typically yellow or brownish in color.
    • You will likely also have chest tightness, shortness of breath, and sometimes struggling to breathe. You may also experience fatigue, a sore throat, muscle aches, nasal congestion, and headaches.
    • Since chronic bronchitis often comes hand in hand with COPD, you may see all the symptoms of COPD such as wheezing lungs, weight loss, and cyanosis, which is a bluish or grayish skin discoloration due to low oxygenation. [13]
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    See a doctor to diagnose chronic bronchitis. Your doctor will likely give you a chest X-ray to check the extent of the damage. This will also exclude pneumonia or lung cancer. Chronic bronchitis will not show any specific signs on the X-ray, but it will tell the doctor if your condition has evolved into COPD.
    • You may also get a pulmonary function tests. These will test your lung capacity and oxygen levels. These are also likely given while you are receiving treatment over a period of time to see if the treatments are working.[14]
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    Treat chronic bronchitis. The major point of treatment is to quit smoking immediately. This can be done with or without help. If you have smoked for a long time, you may find it easier with help, such as nicotine patches and gums, group therapy, prescription medication, and shots. If you have already quit smoking, there are different kinds of treatment, depending on how bad your chronic bronchitis is.
    • People with chronic bronchitis should get a yearly flu shot as well as a pneumonia shot.
    • For chronic bronchitis caused by any factor, you may be given special breathing exercises to increase your lung capacity and help your respiratory system. You may also be told to do more modest exercise, such as light walking or other light cardiovascular exercises. This should be done for 15 minutes at least three times a week to start.[15]
    • Your doctor may also prescribe medication for the condition, such as inhaled beta agonists and steroids to help open up your airways. This works for any cause of bronchitis. You may also be prescribed oral steroids, but talk with your doctor first about the side effects.
    • Antibiotics are sometimes prescribed when you have an acute flare caused by a bacterial infection.
    • If you have extremely low oxygen levels, you may be given supplemental oxygen. This is typical in cases that have progressed to COPD.[16]

Sources and Citations

  1. Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, 2001, 47 (3) 251-259
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Article Info

Categories: Respiratory Health