Most people develop bronchitis at some point in their lifetime. Bronchitis is when the bronchial tubes swell making it harder to breathe. Inflammation in the tubes can make you very uncomfortable and exacerbate any other health issues you may have. This inflammation can make it harder for oxygen to reach the lungs and can cause a cough. It can also cause mucus or phlegm to build up in the airways. Bronchitis is usually caused by a cold, but it does have other causes. Keep reading to learn more about bronchitis and how it can be treated and prevented.

What is Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is a term used to describe inflammation that affects the bronchial tubes. It occurs when something irritates the bronchial tubes. It can be acute or chronic, and smoking is often the culprit in the latter. There are several ways to diagnose bronchitis, which include lung function testing, chest x-ray, and blood testing. Most people report a heavy cough and inability to breath when they are diagnosed with bronchitis. It is highly treatable and does not always require medication to resolve.


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What Causes Bronchitis?

A variety of factors can cause bronchitis by irritating the bronchial tubes, such as bacteria, viruses, and other particles. The condition can also develop due to environmental factors such as air pollution or poorly ventilated areas. The flu and colds are typical causes of bronchitis, as is repeated exposure to fumes and dust from unclean work environments. In some cases, repeated occurrences of acute bronchitis can lead to acute bronchitis.


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Acute Bronchitis

Acute bronchitis generally follows a short illness such as a viral infection, a cold, or the flu. Usually, it presents with chest tightness, a productive cough, fever, and some soreness in the throat. Sometimes people report that they are short of breath. The good news is that most cases of acute bronchitis will resolve within a few days or weeks and do not always require treatment


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Chronic Bronchitis

As the name implies, chronic bronchitis lasts much longer. It is characterized by a cough that lasts for over three months each year. People with chronic bronchitis have varied issues with breathing, and some may find relief during the summer or the cold seasons. In addition to cigarettes, chronic bronchitis can also develop in people with chronic immune issues or other co-existing respiratory problems.


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Symptoms of Bronchitis

Most people start to worry about bronchitis when they have a persistent cough that brings up phlegm or mucus. A constant cough is the number one symptom of bronchitis, although there are other indications such as shortness of breath, sore throat from coughing, body aches, and wheezing. Some people report that they also have a blocked nose and sinus passages, even more so when the bronchitis is caused by a cold or viral infection.


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More Symptoms of Bronchitis

While not as common, there are other symptoms of bronchitis. While most of these symptoms on their own do not indicate bronchitis, when combined with a constant cough and trouble breathing, they can indicate the presence of bronchitis. These can include a low-grade fever, chills, headaches, tightness in the chest, and wheezing.


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Risk Factors for Bronchitis

Anyone can develop bronchitis, but several risk factors increase the risk. People who smoke or are around smoke have a much higher risk of developing both acute and chronic bronchitis. In general, older adults and infants are also at a greater risk of developing bronchitis following a common cold or flu. Additionally, those who suffer from severe heartburn are at a higher risk of developing bronchitis since the acid reflux damages the throat and makes it more susceptible to infection.


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Complications of Bronchitis

Approximately 5% of all cases of bronchitis will turn into pneumonia, which is the number one complication of bronchitis that does not resolve. Pneumonia is when infection moves down into the lungs and causes them to fill with fluid. The risk of developing pneumonia increases with age as well as among smokers, those with immune system diseases, and those with cancer.


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When to Call Your Doctor

As noted earlier, almost all cases of bronchitis will resolve on their own with plenty of rest and fluids. However, if a cough lasts longer than three weeks, it is time to see your doctor. Other signs that you should see your doctor include a fever that lasts longer than three days, rapid breathing, or coughing up mucus that has blood in it. Additionally, you should seek medical help if you start to become drowsy, confused, or have a pre-existing heart or lung condition.


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How to Prevent Bronchitis

Because the common cold or flu can cause bronchitis, it is not always possible to prevent it from occurring. However, there are some basic hygiene rules that you can follow to help reduce your chance of developing it. Wash your hands often to prevent the spread of germs and make sure that you get a yearly flu vaccine. When you become the proper age, it is also a good idea to get a pneumonia vaccine. If you smoke, quitting will drastically reduce your chances of developing acute or chronic bronchitis.


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