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Chronic bronchitis

Bronchitis is a respiratory disease in which there is an inflammation of the mucous membranes of the bronchi (airway passages of lungs). This causes breathlessness and cough spells. If there is productive cough which lasts for three months or more in a year for at least two years it is chronic bronchitis. It is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The airways to the lungs are inflamed and produce lots of mucus which partially block them and cause breathlessness. The condition reduces the lung capacity drastically and may also cause respiratory failure. This has a huge impact on the quality of life of the person. Smoking, air pollution, dust, chemicals, etc. can cause chronic bronchitis. People who continue to smoke may severely damage their lungs.

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Causes

The main identified cause of chronic bronchitis is smoking. Your bronchial tube or airway is lined with glands that produce mucus. This mucus is a medium for trapping infectious agents, dust particles and pollutants that might harm the airway and lungs. When you smoke cigarettes, the harmful chemicals and irritating agents present in tobacco damage the lining of the bronchial tube, causing the glands to overproduce mucus. To expel this excessive mucus, your body triggers cough. In people who smoke excessively, the cycle of overproduction of mucus and the body’s effort to get rid of it continues over a long period of time.

Here are some other reasons you could develop chronic bronchitis


  • Recurring bouts of acute bronchitis

  • Asthma

  • Cystic fibrosis, a genetic lung disease

  • Inhaling environmental and industrial pollutants

Risk Factors

Certain factors put you at a higher risk of developing chronic bronchitis. Here are a few of them


  • Smoking: You might not be a chain smoker but smoking one or two cigarettes daily is also harmful enough to trigger chronic bronchitis.

  • Second hand smoke: Unfortunately, people who don’t smoke are likely to suffer from bronchitis at the expense of people who smoke in public places.

  • Industrial smoke: If your job requires you to be around chemical pollutants, you’re at a higher risk of developing chronic bronchitis

  • Weak immunity: Naturally if your immunity is low, you’ll be prone to recurring viral and bacterial infection of the respiratory system, increasing your chances of suffering from bronchitis

  • Acidity: If you frequently suffer from gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD) or acidity, you could develop bronchitis

Symptoms

The most common symptom of bronchitis is persistent cough. But to eliminate the possibility of other respiratory infections, check out if you’re also suffering from the following symptoms of bronchitis.


  • Cough with phlegm

  • Chest discomfort

  • Wheezing

  • Breathlessness

  • Fatigue

  • Fever


Here is detailed information on symptoms of bronchitis you need to watch out for!

Diagnosis

Medically, chronic bronchitis is differentiated from common cough based on the duration for which the cough lasts. The presence of productive cough (cough with expectoration or phlegm) for at least 3 months in a year over 2 years or more is called chronic bronchitis. Here are some tests your doctor might recommend you to take:


  • Complete blood count (CBC): A CBC will help the doctor to find out whether you’re suffering from any lung or respiratory infection

  • Chest X-ray: It can diagnose chronic bronchitis in the early stages

  • Spirometery: It is a simple test to check lung function. It requires you to breathe into a tube connected to a machine that measures the amount of air you can breathe in and the force with which you can blow it out. This test not only helps in diagnosis of chronic bronchitis but also tracks the progression of the disease and determines how well the medicines are working.


Here are details about different types of lung function tests.

Treatment

Chronic bronchitis reduces the lung capacity drastically and may also cause respiratory failure. This has a huge impact on quality of life of the person. People who continue to smoke may severely damage their lungs. Therefore, early diagnosis and appropriate treatment is essential.

The goal of treatment in chronic bronchitis is to relieve symptoms, avoid complications and slow down the progression of the disease. Here are some medicines you may be prescribed:


  • Bronchodilators: They are available in the form inhalers (aerosol sprays) or pills. They relax open up air passages in the lungs.

  • Corticosteroids: Steroids are available in the form of aerosol sprays. They reduce inflammation and swelling of the lung tissue.

  • Antibiotics: In case your chronic bronchitis is due to a respiratory infection, antibiotics may be prescribed.

  • Oxygen therapy: Excessive mucus production can block the air passage making breathing difficult. In such cases, oxygen supply may be needed.


Surgery may be required for patients with damaged lung tissue.

Apart from medicines and surgery, pulmonary rehabilitation is an important part of treatment. It involves providing help, support and guidance to patients for quitting smoking and starting exercise. Educating the patient about self care and special breathing techniques also forms a part of pulmonary rehabilitation.

Complications

Chronic bronchitis reduces the lung capacity drastically and may also cause respiratory failure. This has a huge impact on the quality of life of the person. People who continue to smoke may severely damage their lungs. There is a possibility for a person suffering from bronchitis to acquire a secondary infection like pneumonia. Read more about causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of pneumonia. 

Prevention

Here are some measures you can take to prevent chronic bronchitis


  • Do not ignore persistent cough. Instant diagnosis and medication can help preventing progression of common cough to chronic bronchitis.

  • Quit smoking because it’s the main reason you could develop chronic bronchitis. Also, avoid passive smoking or inhaling second hand smoke.

  • Maintain safety and high level of precautions if you’re an industrial worker who has to constantly deal with air-borne chemicals and fumes.

  • Lifestyle changes like eating healthy and regular exercise can go a long way to improve your lung function.

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