Chronic bronchitis is a condition involving the inflammation of the main airways (bronchial tubes) in the lungs that continues for a long period or keeps recurring. When the airways are irritated, thick mucus (also called sputum) forms in them. The mucus plugs up the airways and makes it hard to get air into the lungs, leading to shortness of breath and persistent cough.
In medical terms, a person is considered to have chronic bronchitis if cough and sputum are present (without any other disease that could account for these symptoms) on an average of 3 months for at least 2 successive years or for 6 months during a year.
Symptoms of chronic bronchitis:
* An early symptom is persistent winter cough that disappears in the summer.
* In the early stages of chronic bronchitis, the cough usually occurs in the morning. As the disease advances, coughing persists throughout the day. This chronic cough is termed as “smoker’s cough.”
* The cough produces mucus, and there is trouble breathing and a feeling of tightness in the chest.
* Lips and skin may appear blue.
* Breathlessness even on slight exertion.
* Abnormal lung signs.
* Mild fever accompanied by chest pain.
* Swelling of the feet
* Heart failure in extreme cases
What causes chronic bronchitis?
Cigarette smoking is the main cause of chronic bronchitis . When tobacco smoke is inhaled into the lungs, it irritates the airways, thereby leading to excessive production of mucus.
If exposed for a long time to other substances that irritate the lungs, such as air pollution, chemical fumes, dust and other noxious substances, one can get chronic bronchitis.
There is no complete cure for chronic bronchitis. The main aim of treatment is to relieve symptoms and prevent complications.
Many patients with chronic bronchitis are susceptible to recurring bacterial infections, so treatment becomes all the more tough. Excessive mucus production in the lungs provides the perfect environment for infection to thrive, which also causes inflammation and swelling of the bronchial tubes and a reduction in the amount of airflow in and out of the lungs.
* It is important to quit smoking, and thereby prevent chronic bronchitis from getting worse. Any other respiratory irritants should also be avoided.
* Inhaled medications (bronchodilators) that widen the airways and decrease inflammation help reduce symptoms such as wheezing.
* Antibiotics are also prescribed for infections as required.
* Corticosteroids are used during flare-ups of wheezing or by people with severe bronchitis who do not respond to other treatments.
* Physical exercise programmes, breathing exercises are part of the overall treatment plan.
* Oxygen supplementation may be advised in severe cases.
* In very extreme cases, lung reduction surgery to remove damaged area of lung or a lung transplant may be recommended.
Always seek professional medical advice about any treatment or change in treatment plans.
Preventive measures to avoid flare-ups:
* Quit smoking
* Healthy diet
* Avoid substances that cause flare ups
* Avoid dust
* Physiotherapy, regular exercises as shown by a practitioner to strengthen lung muscles.
* Chronic bronchitis increases the risk of lung infections, so be sure to get a flu shot every year. Also, get a pneumococcal vaccination to protect against pneumonia.
Do antibiotics help in treating chronic bronchitis?
In general, antibiotics don’t help much in chronic bronchitis.
Antibiotics are usually prescribed if one gets a lung infection along with chronic bronchitis. This is because, if one has a lung infection, he may cough up more mucus thereby aggravating the situation. One may also get down with fever and shortness of breath.
What is oxygen therapy?
Because of the damage to lungs due to chronic bronchitis, the lungs may not be able to get enough oxygen into the body. Therefore, a doctor may prescribe oxygen supplementation if the chronic bronchitis is severe and medicine doesn’t help.
If prescribed oxygen therapy, one must use it day and night to get the most advantage. Oxygen can help breathe better, easier and therefore live longer.
A few other suggestions:
* Exercising regularly so as to strengthen the muscles that help breathe. Start by exercising slowly and for just a little while at a time. Then slowly increase the time you exercise each day and also how fast you exercise.
* An exercise regime called pulmonary rehabilitation may also help improve breathing. Pulmonary rehabilitation is usually given by a respiratory therapist.
* A breathing method called “pursed-lip breathing” also helps. To do this, take a deep breath and then breathe out slowly through the mouth while holding the lips as if going to kiss someone. Pursed-lip breathing slows down the fast breathing and helps one feel better.
* Drink a minimum of eight glasses of water or other fluids every day. This will help to keep the mucus thin, making it easier to cough up. Avoid sugar and dairy products because they tend to weaken the immune system and stimulate excessive mucus production.
* Avoid taking cough suppressants, as it may cause mucus buildup and can lead to serious complications, such as pneumonia.
* Avoid taking antihistamines or decongestants as these medications can worsen the situation by drying the airways and causing the mucus to thicken.
* Stay away from chemicals, dust, paints, insecticides and other respiratory irritants as these worsen the condition.
Remember, if symptoms do not ease within 48 hours or mucus colour changes, one must immediately call a doctor.