Bronchitis is inflammation of the air passages within the lungs. It occurs when the trachea (windpipe) and the large and small bronchi (airways) within the lungs become inflamed because of infection or other causes.
- coughing up extra mucus, sometimes with blood
- inflammation of the bronchi (branches of the airways below the trachea)
- swelling (edema) of the bronchial walls
- blockage of the alveoli
- difficulty breathing (due to above symptoms)
- blocked/runny nose (may be associated with bronchitis of some causes but is not part of it)
- Acute bronchitis, if infectious is caused by secondary infection of the bronchi by viruses or bacteria and lasting several days or weeks. It may be preceded by a common cold (Coryza) or influenza (flu). Some complications from contracting bronchitis affect measles and whooping coughs in children due to the virus depressing the body’s normal defence mechanisms.
- Chronic bronchitis, caused by prolonged irritation of the bronchial epithelium, a persistent, productive cough lasting at least three months in 2 consecutive years.
Certified Definition of Chronic Bronchitis: When an individual has had a cough with sputum for 3 months (or more) in 2 consecutive years.
Chronic bronchitis can be caused by inhaling irritating fumes or dust. Chemical solvents and smoke, including tobacco smoke, have all been linked to acute bronchitis. Common cold is often a symptom of Acute bronchitis. Viral bronchitis is contagious.
In bronchitis, the membranes lining the larger air passages (bronchi) become inflamed (-itis is the suffix meaning inflammation) and an excessive amount of mucus is produced. The person with bronchitis develops a bad cough to get rid of the mucus due to the reduction in number of and efficiency of remaining cilliated cells. This increases the likelihood that a viral infection will be contracted by patients and sometimes it can lead to pneumonia. Fibrosis (scarring) can be a consequence of chronic inflammation.
Airflow into and out of the lungs is partly blocked because of the swelling and extra mucus in the bronchi or due to reversible bronchospasm.
Bronchitis, if considered to be bacterial is commonly treated with an antibiotic called Amoxicillin. Inhalers for wheezing (bronchodilators) or inflammation (steroid) may be used as with asthma. A rescue inhaler, Ventolin (albuterol), Salbutomal (albuterol) or Novo-Salmol, is commonly used for shortness of breath (dyspnea) due to bronchospasm (reversible narrowing of smaller bronchi due to constriction of the smooth muscles in the walls). This leads to airway obstruction heard as wheezing. Other inhalers can be prescribed for daily therapy use. Inflammation of the smaller airways (bronchioles), is bronchiolitis which is a common viral infection of young children.
Chronic bronchitis is one sub-category of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or disorder). Emphysema is another sub-category of COPD. With COPD, each interferes with the absorption of oxygen into the blood stream. COPD patients can degrade to the point where their breathing system does not recognize high levels of carbon dioxide buildup. Their breathing mechanism will respond to low levels of oxygen instead. So applying oxygen for treatment of a COPD patient can potentially shut down the respiratory drive. However, COPD is a secondary issue. The oxygen is required for treatment of the main injury or illness. The main point is to monitor and ensure that if the respiratory drive shuts down, rescue breathing or CPR can be immediately administered (if no signs of circulation). It is estimated that one in twenty smokers suffer from COPD (making it the main cause of the disease) most of which are middle aged men, smoking 20-40 cigarettes per day for a prolonged period of 20 years or more.