When the bronchial tubes have an obstruction in the lungs due to an inflammation, this is called bronchitis. Two forms of bronchitis include acute and chronic, both usually caused by mucus. Along with mucus, bacteria and viruses are leading causes that affect the bronchial tubes. Acute bronchitis is often associated with a cold or infection but only remains temporarily. Proper treatment is necessary to ensure that acute bronchitis does not develop into something more serious. Acute bronchitis usually last no longer than a few weeks and almost always follows a cold or the flu. As the name describes, chronic bronchitis occurs as a result of long-term illnesses or environmental accessories. Chronic bronchitis worsens during the winter or colder months. Repetitive bouts of bronchitis over the course of 2 years due to long-term exposure of fumes and dust is the main cause of chronic bronchitis. The signs of both types of bronchitis are similar and are explained in the next section.
Below are the symptoms associated with both forms of bronchitis.
- Blocked nose
- Long-lasting cough
- Chest congestion
- Coughing up clear, white, yellow or green mucus
- Stuffy or running nose
- Sore throat
- Persistent cough
- Inflammation of the bronchi
- Fever (low-grade, sometimes high)
- Aching body/muscles
- Blocked sinuses
- Feeling out of breath
- Tightness of the chest
The main causes for acute bronchitis are bacterial and viral infections such as influenza. Other causes or contributing factors to increasing the risk of developing bronchitis include:
- Smoking tobacco or any other substance
- Living with a habitual smoker
- Having a weak immune system
- Environmental issues
- Constant gastric reflux
- Working with chemical fumes
- Living in a highly polluted area
- Traveling to places with poor air quality
Is Bronchitis Contagious?
Acute bronchitis spreads through the air, therefore making it contagious. Direct contact with those who have acute bronchitis can increase the risk of developing bronchitis. Most people are unaware they have bronchitis because it can mask as the common cold. Depending on the case, the longest you are usually contagious is one week. The easiest way to spread this form of illness is by passing it along with touch or coughing. The mouth, nose, eyes and hands are the biggest culprits in passing on bronchitis. Although it may not seem like it, the air captures everything and viciously hands illnesses off to those who least expect it. It is important to always cover your mouth when coughing. The instinctive move is to cover with your hands, but that is a huge no-no! Cover your mouth with a napkin or your forearm because they can “trap” in the illness so it does linger in the air.
Visiting public restrooms and restaurants are the biggest places for people to “catch” viral illnesses. The virus and bacteria that lives within bronchitis can live outside of the body for anywhere from minutes to days. Acute bronchitis can be contagious but not all chronic bronchitis cases can be contagious. Assuming you have acute bronchitis, it is best to avoid others, stay home from school or work and avoid contact with the outside world (for at least 3 to 7 days). These are not requirements but suggestions that one should take into consideration to avoid spreading bronchitis.
Doctors are trained to listen for certain sounds in the lungs to detect things like bronchitis. The first way to diagnosis bronchitis is with a physical exam. Other ways to correctly identify bronchitis are:
- Blood tests
- Check blood oxygen levels
- Test mucus
- Chest X-ray
- Test the function of the lung(s)
Depending on the type of bronchitis and seriousness, different methods of treatment will be recommended by a doctor. For those with a tame case of acute bronchitis, no antibiotics are required. The best form of at-home treatment includes: resting, drinking up to 12 glasses of water per day, taking a hot shower, use of a humidifier and taking over-the-counter cough medicine and/or pain reliever. If you have been diagnosed with a bacterial infection, then the need for antibiotics is mandatory. Unfortunately, there is no cure for chronic bronchitis.
There are many tips to avoid contracting or developing bronchitis. These prevention tips include:
- Washing your hands
- Use hand-sanitizers
- Avoid or stop smoking
- Do not stand near people who are smoking
- Get the proper vaccination
- Wear a mask to avoid breathing in harmful fumes or dust