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What Is Bacterial Bronchitis?

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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 20 August 2014
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Bacterial bronchitis is a potentially serious respiratory condition caused by exposure to a pathogen. Often presenting acutely, this form of bronchitis is generally precipitated by a bacterial infection that adversely affects delicate bronchial tissue and respiration. Sometimes difficult to diagnose because of its presentational similarity to viral-based bronchitis, bacterial bronchitis is generally treated with antibiotics. Timely and appropriate treatment is essential to preventing permanent lung damage that may occur if symptoms are ignored.

Exposure to a bacterial-based pathogen is the genesis for infection and bronchial inflammation associated with bacterial bronchitis. Regular exposure to environmental toxins and pollution can leave delicate bronchial tissues vulnerable to infection. Recent hospitalization may also increase a person's susceptibility for bronchitis even if his or her exposure to bacterial pathogens was minimal. Individuals with compromised immunity, allergies, or those who have been diagnosed with a chronic medical condition, such as lung disease, are also considered at risk for this condition.

A diagnosis of bacterial bronchitis is generally made following a comprehensive consultation and physical examination. Abnormal lung sounds detected during an examination may prompt additional diagnostic tests, including a chest X-ray. When bacteria-related bronchitis is suspected, a sputum or nasal culture may be performed to determine the bacteria responsible for inducing infection. Respiration that is severely impaired may prompt lung function and arterial blood gas tests to measure lung volume and oxygen levels in the blood.

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Bronchitis possesses several tell-tale signs that may present to varying degrees depending on the severity of infection. Individuals will often experience hoarseness, widespread achiness and a persistent, deep cough that can produce discolored sputum. Bronchial congestion can impair respiration, causing wheezing and shortness of breath. It is not uncommon for some individuals to become easily fatigued or winded with little to no physical exertion. Individuals with an existing infection, impaired immunity and those who smoke oftentimes experience more pronounced symptoms.

Individuals experiencing signs of possible bronchial infection should not ignore their symptoms. If left untreated, bacterial bronchitis can contribute to pneumonia and chronic bronchitis. Those who have been diagnosed with a chronic respiratory illness, such as asthma or emphysema, are especially vulnerable to developing bronchopneumonia.

Treatment for bacterial bronchitis is generally centered on the eradication of infection. It is essential that the prescribed antibiotic medication be taken as directed and in its entirety to prevent re-infection. Supplemental over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as analgesics and cough suppressants, may also be taken to ease symptoms. Individuals are encouraged to stay hydrated and get sufficient rest to prevent complications.

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