Understanding Chronic Bronchitis - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Jan 29, 2024

Healthcare Services

Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis is the long-term irritation and inflammation of the bronchial tubes in your lungs.

According to NIH, chronic bronchitis affects 16 million adults, half the number of  women. It remains the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

Though the condition is incurable, timely diagnosis and treatment can help manage your symptoms and decrease the progression of the disease. However, if it goes untreated, you will experience complications like cardiac problems, lung cancer, respiratory infections, depression, etc.

Let us discuss chronic bronchitis, covering its causes, symptoms, and treatment so you can act quickly.

What Is Chronic Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is the inflammation of the airways (bronchi) that carry oxygen to and from the lungs. The inflamed airways cause mucus formation, leading to wheezing, coughing, etc. Depending on the causes and duration, it can be acute or chronic.

Acute bronchitis is the sudden onset of inflammation in the bronchial tubes, resulting from viral infections like the common cold or flu. It often lasts for a short period. On the other hand, chronic bronchitis is a long-term condition usually resulting from smoking or exposure to irritants such as dust or chemicals.

To be diagnosed with chronic bronchitis, you must have a chronic cough coupled with increased mucus production lasting at least three months in two consecutive years.

People with chronic bronchitis may also have acute episodes of cough with phlegm when symptoms aggravate. They may also develop COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder) that blocks the airflow in the lungs, causing breathing issues.

Causes of Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis can be caused by long-term exposure to:

  • Smoking and Tobacco - Harmful chemicals present in tobacco will irritate the lining of the bronchial tubes, causing inflammation of the airways and excess mucus production.
  • Environmental Factors - Exposure to environmental factors such as dust, pollen, and mold can inflame and constrict the airways, causing bronchitis.
  • Air Pollution - Air pollution from vehicles, industrial machines, etc. can irritate the lungs, contributing to bronchitis.

Chronic Bronchitis Symptoms

Chronic bronchitis can cause the following signs:

  • Persistent Cough – The irritation in your airways damages your cilia (tiny hair-like structures) that are responsible for clearing out mucus formation. This damage inflames your airways and fills them with mucus, resulting in coughing.
  • Excessive Mucus Production – As your cilia fail to function properly, you may have excessive mucus production.
  • Shortness of Breath – The excess mucus formation congests your airways, leading to breathing difficulty and shortness of breath.

Chronic Bronchitis Diagnosis

To diagnose your chronic bronchitis, your healthcare provider will begin by reviewing your symptoms and medical history. They may question your exposure to environmental factors and irritants such as tobacco smoke.

They may order the following tests to confirm your diagnosis:

  • Lung (Pulmonary) Function Test – It helps measure the amount of air you exhale and inhale and whether your lungs deliver enough oxygen. A standard pulmonary function test is spirometry, during which you are asked to blow a large tube connected to a small machine to check how much air your lungs can hold and how quickly you can exhale the air. Other tests include a six-minute walk test, lung volumes and diffusing capacity measurement, and pulse oximetry.
  • Arterial Blood Gas Analysis – It helps to see whether your lungs supply enough oxygen to your blood, removing carbon dioxide.
  • Chest X-ray – It is performed to see whether you have emphysema (a significant cause of COPD), lung problems, or heart failure.
  • CT Scan – It is performed to diagnose emphysema and whether you could benefit from COPD surgery. It is also used to detect lung cancer.
  • Laboratory Tests – These are used to diagnose any underlying health conditions or the root cause of your symptoms. For example, they help to determine if you have the genetic disorder (alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency) that may cause COPD in some people. Those who develop COPD at a young age or with a family history of COPD are asked to undergo this test.

Chronic Bronchitis Treatment

Depending on your underlying cause and symptoms, your healthcare provider may recommend any of the following treatments for chronic bronchitis:

  • Medications – Anti-inflammatory medications and steroids will be prescribed to treat the airway inflammation.
  • Bronchodilators – These medications come in inhalers or are administered through nebulizer machines to relax the airway muscles and dilute the phlegm.
  • Pulmonary Rehabilitation – It includes customized breathing exercises, fitness training, and nutrition counselling to reduce the effect of bronchitis in daily life, helping you stay active and carry out your everyday activities.
  • Lifestyle Modifications – Lifestyle modifications, such as quitting smoking and reducing exposure to second-hand smoke, can reduce the aggravation of the condition while subsiding its symptoms.

Final Thoughts

Seeking appropriate treatment for chronic bronchitis is crucial for prompt relief from symptoms and long-term respiratory health. Besides, timely diagnosis and treatment can help prevent its progression into COPD.

Get the Desired Relief from Chronic Bronchitis at 828 Urgent Care

At 828 Urgent Care, we offer the medical expertise and personalized care for acute and chronic bronchitis. Do not let your cough or wheezing hold you back – contact us today to regain your respiratory health. Call us at (760) 216-6253. Our staff will walk you through our self-check-in process from the convenience of your home!

We are available from 8 am to 8 pm every day, including holidays.

Content Source: CDC , WHO and UCSU
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