What is bronchitis?
Bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, or bronchi, which connect the windpipe with the lungs. When the bronchi are inflamed and/or infected, less air is able to flow to and from the lungs and a heavy mucus or phlegm is formed in the airways.
Acute bronchitis is usually a short illness that commonly develops from a severe cold or following other viral infections and is characterised by cough with green sputum and a soreness in the centre of the chest and perhaps fever and some (usually mild) shortness of breath.
Chronic bronchitis is defined by the presence of a mucus-producing cough most days of the month, three months of a year for two successive years without other underlying disease to explain the cough. People with chronic bronchitis also have varying degrees of breathing difficulties. Periodically these people may get infections in their lungs which makes their breathing problems worse. Sometimes chronic bronchitis is called ‘chronic obstructive lung disease’ or ‘chronic obstructive airways disease’. These terms reflect that the main problem is difficulty getting the air in and out of the chest and that is what causes the problems with breathing.
How do you get bronchitis?
Acute bronchitis is almost always caused by viruses that get into the bronchi and cause infection. As the body’s immune system fights against these viruses, more swelling occurs and more mucus is produced. In most cases, the viruses that cause colds cause acute bronchitis. Sometimes bacteria cause acute bronchitis, especially after viral infections like colds.
Once the bronchial tubes have been irritated over a long period of time, excessive mucus is produced constantly, the lining of the bronchial tubes becomes thickened, an irritating cough develops, air flow may be hampered, and the lungs are endangered. The bronchial tubes then make an ideal breeding place for infections.
Cigarette smoking is the most common cause of chronic bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis may also result from a series of attacks of acute bronchitis. Other causes include air pollution and industrial dusts and fumes.
How serious is bronchitis?
Most cases of acute bronchitis go away after a few days to a week. Severe cases may also cause general malaise and chest pain.
Chronic bronchitis starts with very minor symptoms. However in some people the symptoms get worse and worse over a number of years and may become so serious as to threaten the life of the patients. Chronic bronchitis is often associated with other pulmonary diseases, such as pulmonary emphysema (a chronic lung condition in which the alveoli may be irreversibly damaged).
How long does bronchitis last?
Most cases of acute bronchitis go away after a few days to a week without medical intervention. Sometimes, however, the cough associated with acute bronchitis lasts for several weeks or months. This is usually because the bronchi are taking a long time to heal.
Chronic bronchitis is a progressive condition for which there is no cure. The symptoms of chronic bronchitis generally last for months at a time. The symptoms may get better but then occur again more than once each year, especially during the winter. The effects last longer as the condition worsens. Gradually, the coughing occurs all the time, getting worse in the morning and in damp, cold weather. As chronic bronchitis continues, chest infections become more frequent.
How is bronchitis treated?
Many cases of acute bronchitis will go away on their own without treatment.
Chronic bronchitis can be more effectively treated if diagnosed in the early stages of the disease. While there is no cure for chronic bronchitis, there are different types of medicines that will help to keep it under control and relieve symptoms:
- Medicines called bronchodilators that are usually prescribed to treat asthma will help to open the bronchial tubes and clear out mucus.
- They are usually given with an inhaler.
- Medicines called mucolytics which thin or loosen mucus in the airways, making it easier to cough up can also be used to treat chronic bronchitis.
- Persistent symptoms and more severe disease are treated with anti-inflammatory medicines called steroids (of the glucocorticoid type) which are given with an inhaler.
Herbs that reduce inflamation in the bronchi and lungs.
Hebs that help fight infection and boost immune response.
Herbs that are soothing to the mucous membrnes of the lungs and bronchi.
Nutrients that help increase expectoration..