Health Services

There's nothing cute about Acute Bronchitis

EphNotes

What it is, where it comes from

Acute bronchitis is an infection of the bronchial tubes that bring air into the lungs. The infection causes mucus to form in these tubes, making it hard to breathe. Such an infection is almost always caused by viruses, often the same viruses that cause throat and nose colds. These viruses damage the lining of the bronchial tubes, and it takes the body a long time to repair, even after the viruses are killed off.

The spread

Acute bronchitis is spread by coughing (or other close oral contact). The virus is sprayed into the air through coughing, and can either directly (healthy person breathes infected air) or indirectly (healthy person shakes sick person’s hands after sick person coughs into them, then brings hands to mouth) infect nearby individuals.

it is easiest to get acute bronchitis with previous damage to the bronchial tubes — cigarette smoking or breathing in damaging fumes (industrial fumes) both break down the body’s ability to defend against infection.

Be sure it’s Acute Bronchitis, treat it right

Sadly, there are no tests that can prove an infection is acute bronchitis. If a clinician performs tests (i.e. chest x-rays and breathing tests), it is often to make sure the infection is not something else (like pneumonia).

Once a clinician determines that the infection is acute bronchitis, there are a few things to do to get rid of the infection. Since antibiotics won’t help (they combat bacterial rather than viral infections), different techniques must be employed:

  1. Clinicians often prescribe asthma-treatment medicines to open the bronchial tubes and clear out the mucus. These often come as inhalers to spray the medicine directly into the tubes.
  2. Infected individuals should reduce or eliminate smoking habits, if they have any. Smoking only serves to increase the damage to the bronchial tubes and make it harder for the body to heal itself.

When to see the clinicians

Though the acute bronchitis cough can last several weeks, it is often a sign of other problems.

  1. If the problems persist (continued coughing and wheezing, especially at night or during physical activity), the infection might actually be asthma — the two are easily confused.
  2. If symptoms such as high fever, feeling very sick and weak, and continued coughing accompany acute bronchitis, the infection may be pneumonia.
  3. A bad-tasting fluid coming from the stomach may indicate a kind of bronchitis caused by acid coming up from the stomach and dripping into the lungs during sleep. This can be treated by acid-reducing medicines.

Experiencing any of these conditions is a signal to go see the clinicians.

You should also see the clinicians if you:

  • cough up blood
  • cough for over a month
  • have trouble breathing only upon lying down
  • have swollen feet

Prevention

The best defense against acute bronchitis is not to smoke. Beyond that, general health rules such as eating right, sleeping enough, and keeping hydrated will help to keep your body’s immune system strong.

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