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.
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.
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
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.
WebMD terms and conditions.
- 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.