What is Chronic Bronchitis?

Chronic bronchitis is a respiratory condition where the bronchial tube lining is inflamed. Bronchial tubes are components of the respiratory tract that transport oxygen to and from the lungs. Chronic bronchitis may arise from a bacterial or viral infection or, more commonly, from irritants, such as smoking. Chronic bronchitis is a medical condition classified as an obstructive pulmonary disease. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) also includes emphysema.

Typically, symptoms of chronic bronchitis include persistent coughing that is often worse upon waking and when the weather is damp. In addition, bacterial or viral respiratory infections may frequently occur and be accompanied by a severe productive cough. A productive cough is a cough that produces or is accompanied by mucus secretions. At times, the chronic inflammation may progress to bronchial tube scarring, which usually produces an excess of mucus. After time, the airway may become permanently scarred.

Many times, symptoms of chronic bronchitis will wax and wane. As a result, the patient becomes susceptible to bacterial or viral infections because of the risk of an acute bronchitis superimposition. Usually, chronic bronchitis is a serious medical condition. Although smoking is the major risk factor, other factors such as air pollution can figure prominently. Another risk factor for chronic bronchitis may be reflux disease. This refers to the flow of stomach acids to the esophageal area.


Generally, treatment for chronic bronchitis may include antibiotics and cough medications. Usually, antibiotics will not be given for bronchitis brought on from a viral infection. Antibiotics are only effective for bacterial infections and are ineffective against viruses. It is usually not recommended to prescribe cough suppressant medications because coughing assists in the mucus removal process from the lungs. If, however, a cough keeps the patient awake, a suppressant may be appropriate.

In addition to antibiotics and cough preparations, the physician may recommend the use of a bronchial inhaler. These inhaled medications open constricted passages in the lungs and may reduce inflammation. Other than medication, treatments such as pulmonary therapy may be effective in loosening and expelling viscous lung secretions. A respiratory therapist can assist the patient with breathing exercises that may help him breathe better.

Many times, however, the only treatment needed for bronchitis is rest, drinking plenty of fluids and taking over-the-counter medications. To complement these treatments, a vaporizer may be used to thin out secretions and help the patient expectorate mucus. Before the patient begins self treating, it is prudent for him to first see his doctor for a comprehensive medical evaluation.


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