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Bronchitis

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D E S C R I P T I O N

Bronchitis is irritation and swelling in the air passages that connect the lungs to the trachea (windpipe).

There are two kinds of bronchitis:

1. Acute - usually caused by germs (viruses or bacteria) spread either through contact with someone who is infected or through the air.

2. Chronic - primarily caused by cigarette smoking, but also caused by air pollution, allergies and infections, chronic bronchitis is one of the lung disorders - along with emphysema - classified as a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Exacerbations of chronic bronchitis may be caused by bacteria or viruses.


R I S K

Those who are most likely to get acute bronchitis are smokers, infants, young children, the elderly and people with lung and heart diseases. Chances of contracting the disease also increase if you've become run down from another illness, especially colds and flu, or have been breathing air that contains chemical fumes, dust or smoke. Chronic bronchitis affects more men than women and is more common in people over 40.


S Y M P T O M S

The most common symptom of acute bronchitis is a cough, which may either be dry or productive (sputum-producing). Other symptoms include a low fever (less than 101 degrees Fahrenheit) lasting three to five days, wheezing, trouble with breathing and a burning pain or pressure in the chest.

For chronic bronchitis, the main symptom is a productive cough that lasts for at least three months per year for more than two years in a row. Other symptoms include wheezing, chest tightness, repeated lung infections, swelling in the hands and feet, and skin or nail beds that become pale or a bluish color.


T R E A T M E N T

Both acute and chronic bronchitis can be controlled and usually reversed with medication and home care. This includes drinking plenty of liquids, getting bed rest and using a vaporizer or humidifier to add moisture to the air. Over-the-counter medications may also help, including cough syrup to loosen phlegm and aspirin or acetaminophen to reduce fever and relieve muscle and headache pain.

The appropriate role of antibiotics in both acute bronchitis and exacerbations of chronic bronchitis is the subject of much medical debate.


P R E V E N T I O N

  • Don't smoke. Quit smoking if you do.
  • If possible, avoid living and working in damp, cold and polluted conditions.
  • Exercise regularly and eat healthy foods to help boost your immune system.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after you cough, sneeze or wipe your nose.
  • Don't share eating utensils, cups or towels with others.

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