Acute bronchitis, the infectious form of which affects most people with the disease, is only very rarely fatal. Chronic bronchitis, however, can slowly destroy lung function and may become life threatening.
Bronchitis is the inflammation of the bronchial tubes, which carry air from the trachea, or windpipe, into and through the lungs.
Acute bronchitis has distinct forms that vary, depending on the causes:
- Viral bronchitis: Viral infections cause most cases of bronchitis. A person may develop a cough or trouble breathing after a virus, such as the common cold or flu.
- Bacterial bronchitis: Bacterial infections can also cause bronchitis. A person may suddenly develop breathing difficulties or notice breathing problems following another illness.
- Fungal infections occasionally cause bronchitis.
- Other causes: Besides infection, exposure to substances that irritate the lungs, such as tobacco smoke, dust, fumes, vapors, and air pollution can also cause bronchitis.
Chronic bronchitis causes ongoing inflammation of the airways. It is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
The symptoms of bronchitis are similar, regardless of which type causes the disease. However, chronic bronchitis does not go away, although symptoms can wax and wane.
Viral and bacterial bronchitis typically last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Some symptoms include:
- severe coughing, often producing mucus
- clear, green, or yellow mucus
- fever or chills
- wheezing or trouble breathing, especially when lying down
- feelings of fullness or tightness in the chest
- sore throat
Since most cases of acute bronchitis are viral, they will not respond to antibiotics.
The following treatment options may help:
- drinking plenty of fluids
- over-the-counter pain relievers
- cough medication
A humidifier can also ease coughing at night. When a bacterial infection causes bronchitis, a doctor may recommend antibiotics.
Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, is not curable. However, a number of interventions can help a person breathe more easily.
Some doctors might recommend inhalers, oxygen, pulmonary rehabilitation therapy, or other medications to help reduce inflammation in the airways.
Both acute and chronic bronchitis are more common in people who smoke. Quitting smoking can reduce the risk of bronchitis and prevent further damage to the airways.
Chronic bronchitis can lead to serious complications, including death from heart or lung damage. Over time, a person’s body may not be able to get enough oxygen from the blood, damaging organs and potentially causing other illnesses.
Chronic bronchitis also greatly increases the risk of pneumonia and can make it more difficult for a person’s body to fight pneumonia.
Acute bronchitis does not usually cause serious complications. However, in a person with a weak immune system, it may lead to other infections, including pneumonia and sepsis.
Chronic lower respiratory diseases, including bronchitis, claimed 160,201 lives in the United States in 2016.
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