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Bronchitis: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Last Updated: Dec 02, 2021

What is Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is a lung or respiratory disorder caused by viruses, bacteria or other particles where bronchial tubes gets inflamed or swelled. This condition restricts the movement of air between the mouth and nose and the lungs. In such condition, it is very difficult to breathe as the air passage gets packed with mucus or phlegm. In bronchitis disease, bronchi gets affected in which infection irritates it and it makes usually high amount of mucus that is tried to remove through coughing process.

This disease can be either acute or chronic in nature where inflammation of airways last for up to three weeks or three months to two year timeframe respectively. Cigarette smoker are more susceptible for bronchitis like respiratory diseases causing one serious condition of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Generally, acute bronchitis is also known as chest cold occurring due to cold or viral infection and after treatment it does not cause any future problems.

What are the Symptoms Of Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is divided in two types as acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis depending upon its period of time and effects but there are some common signs and symptoms between them:

  • Only cough or cough with mucus or phlegm that looks like white, clear, yellowish-gray or greenish in color.
  • Discomfort or congestion in chest with shortness of breath
  • During breathing whistling or wheezing sound
  • Sore throat
  • Blocked or runny stuffy nose
  • Body pain and chills with fever
  • Headaches and fatigue

There are some different symptoms observed in acute bronchitis which are similar to flu condition like headaches, body aches, tightening in chest etc. and in some cases like children, due to increased mucus, vomiting occurs. On other side, a person suffering from chronic bronchitis experiencing signs like wheezing, persistent cough with build-up amount of phlegm, recurring chest infections, breathing difficulties. This chronic bronchitis carries productive cough for the longer period of time.

What Causes Bronchitis?

In respiratory system, trachea and bronchi are essential for air transfer from mouth and nose to lungs where bronchi is further divided in to small and small airway of lungs called as bronchioles. These bronchioles and bronchi get affected b viruses, bacteria or other particles making damage to the lungs and airways tissues.

If symptoms are similar to flu and coughing lasts for several days, it is acute bronchitis. The reasons behind the inflammation in acute bronchitis are tobacco smoke inhalation, dust, fumes, vapors and air pollution. Smoking in any form is most common reason behind the occurrence of chronic bronchitis as well as other factors like long term exposure to air pollution, dust, fumes, and repeated episodes of acute bronchitis.

Sometimes other environmental or physical factors like gastric reflux causing severe heartburn also irritates throat and making it more prone to bronchitis and working at place that have exposure to lung irritants such as grains or textile mills or chemical fume leading to bronchitis.

What are the Precautions For Bronchitis?

As a preventive measure of bronchitis, following are some points:

  • It is mandatory to avoid cigarette smoking as it causes damage to the lungs and risking towards bronchitis.
  • Vaccines are advised for flu, pneumonia like diseases which are also reason behind occurrence of bronchitis.
  • It is also advised to maintain hygiene of body as washing hands frequently with essential sanitizers or soaps prevent against risk of catching viral infection.
  • Use of facial masks to avoid spreading of infection as well as exposure to dust or fumes if visiting any places which are crowded.
  • Avoid visiting such areas where person smokes or lung irritants are detected.
  • Residential places where diesel-power plants or busy roads should be avoided because it doubles the risk of chronic bronchitis.


How is Bronchitis Diagnosed?

Patient’s medical history is asked as well as physical examination with the use of stethoscope will be done by medical professional to find out any abnormal sounds in the lungs. Further questions about coughing, flu like symptoms, exposure to dust or fume etc. are asked by doctor and followed by below mentioned tests:

  • Chest X-ray- If a smoker is facing bronchitis disorder than x-rays are very important to identify the presence of pneumonia or other conditions.
  • Sputum tests- Mucus sample collected from patient is tested for signs or allergies.
  • Pulmonary function test- With the use of spirometer, pulmonary function test is performed that measures condition of air passage.

How do you know if bronchitis turns into pneumonia?

Unlike bronchitis, pneumonia is a more severe and life-threatening disease. Most of the symptoms in pneumonia are identical to bronchitis, yet in pneumonia patient also experience symptoms like:

  • Significant difficulty in breathing.
  • Feeling that your chest is being crushed.
  • Coughing blood.
  • Blue fingernails or lips.

Some common symptoms are:

  • Coughing clean, yellow, green or blood-streaked phlegm.
  • Fever and chills.
  • Tightening and pain sensation in the chest.
  • Feeling lethargic.

What is the Best Treatment for Bronchitis?

People with suffering from symptoms like coughing for more than 3 weeks or mucus with blood, fever lasted for more than 3 days, chest pain or recurring bronchitis are recommended for treatment of OTC cough suppressants, bronchodilators, mucolytic, antibiotics etc. Below are some treatment plans suitable for bronchitis:

  • Cough medicine- they are useful to bring up mucus and removal of irritants from the lungs through coughing.
  • Bronchodilators- they are agents which are dilating bronchial tubes and helps in removal of mucus present in lungs or air passages.
  • Mucolytic- They are acting on mucus by thinning or un- bounding it from the air passages.
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation- With the use of such program, patients experienced improved breathing patterns.
  • Oxygen therapy- In this therapy, oxygen intake is increased by supplying it that helps in dealing breathlessness like condition.
  • Antibiotics- If bronchitis has occurred due to bacterial infection, then certain antibiotics are prescribed by medical professional.

For chronic bronchitis, patients are prescribed for oral or inhaled steroids, yearly flu and/or pneumonia vaccination.

Who is eligible for the treatment?

Treatment for bronchitis can be conducted on anyone regardless of age and gender.

There are different treatment plans available for each age group but everyone can undergo the treatment process if they are feeling problematic.

Who is not eligible for the treatment?

There are no certain restrictions made for the eligibility of bronchitis treatment.

What are the post-treatment guidelines?

The guidelines post-treatment are:

  • Intake of more amount of water or fluids which facilitates hydration.
  • Avoid cold items.
  • Avoid foods with excess spice, oil, and dairy.
  • Indulge in light to moderate cardio workout sessions.

Can bronchitis turn into pneumonia?

Yes. If not treated on time bronchitis can turn into pneumonia. There are two types of bronchitis that can develop into pneumonia and they are:

  • Bacterial pneumonia caused by the bacteria Streptococcus, Chlamydophila, or Legionella.
  • Viral pneumonia is caused by a respiratory virus.

Other than that there are two types that might not convert into pneumonia, but can develop a severe case if not treated on time:

  • Mycoplasma pneumonia can be caused by organisms that are neither bacterial or viral, but that have similar qualities to both.
  • Fungal pneumonia caused by fungi from bird droppings or soil.

How long are you contagious with bronchitis?

Around 90 percent of all cases worldwide of acute bronchitis are caused by viruses that are contagious. Viral bronchitis has an incubation period of between two to six days and the patient starts to become contagious within a few hours of the initial onset of symptoms. Most of the patients remain contagious until the symptoms go away.

Acute bronchitis that’s caused by bacterial infections is less contagious than the viral to other healthy people, although the patient is at greater risk of spreading the infection to those who have compromised immune systems.

If one takes antibiotics for bacterial acute bronchitis, it will become less contagious within 24 to 48 hours.

On the other hand, Chronic bronchitis is not usually contagious. But it can be if the patient is suffering from both acute and chronic bronchitis.

Does bronchitis get worse at night?

If a patient experiences uncontrollable cough during night time, then it can be a sign that bacterial or viral bronchitis is getting worse.

Although there are few reasons which make bronchitis worse at night, they are:

  • Lack of physical activity makes it difficult for the muscles to get rid of the mucus that irritates the nasal passages.
  • In the case of acid reflux, one might experience uncomfortable cough ting time all night.

In a nutshell, it’s not the time frame that makes bronchitis worse, it is lack of physical activity and sleep habits that worsen the case.

Why does bronchitis make you so tired?

The body reacts to disease-causing bacteria by sending white blood cells via increased blood flow. Under bacterial attack, the body starts to produce new antibodies which later get attached to the bacteria and destroy them completely. In this case, the body uses most of its resources to heal the bacteria of bronchitis through this process which usually makes a patient tired and exhausted.

Also, bronchitis bacteria grows into the lungs and blocks most of the nasal passage making respiration difficult for an individual. This creates a low oxygen supply in the bloodstream making it difficult for the body to fiction daily activities properly.

Why is my bronchitis not going away?

Acute bronchitis typically cured within 15 days, or in some cases, one may experience basic symptoms for up to three weeks.

In the case of chronic bronchitis, one may develop a long-lasting form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In this case, the patient experiences frequent episodes of bronchitis which last up to three months. Chronic bronchitis takes two or more than two years to cure, depending upon the recovery from the initial episode.

Can bronchitis damage your lungs?

In acute cases, early detection and treatment may prevent the lungs from permanent damage. As in most acute cases, bronchitis generally fades away without any specific medication or antibiotics.

If not detected on time acute bronchitis might develop into a severe case of chronic bronchitis or even pneumonia. In this case, it is very likely that the disease will damage the lungs. The damage depends on the facts like:

  • Type of pathogen triggers bronchitis.
  • Duration of the bacteria affecting lungs.
  • Individual immune system and strength of infection.

What is the Best Home Remedy for Bronchitis?

Some behavioral remedies are suggested for people suffering from bronchitis as mentioned below:

  • Avoid activities that irritate the lung or interfere in lungs function.
  • Drink lots of water as it can help in losing up the mucus stick to airways.
  • Humidifiers and hot shower are useful in dealing with symptoms like limited airflow or wheezing. It is highly advised to clean properly the humidifier as it may have growth of fungi or bacteria if left un-cleaned.
  • Perform certain exercise that can help in breathing patterns as well as strengthens the muscles of the respiratory system.
  • Don't perform such activities that cause rise in breathing.

Which fruit is good for bronchitis?

Edibles that are low in fat are ideal to consume during bronchitis. Healthcare professionals recommend eating plenty of fruits and vegetables for an overall healthy diet. Here is the list of fruits that will you improve your respiratory tract:

  1. Apples:

    Rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, apples will help fight against toxic bacteria present in the lungs.

  2. Tomato:

    One of the richest dietary sources of lycopene, tomato contains carotenoid antioxidants that has been associated with improved lung health.

  3. Blueberries:

    Great source of anthocyanins, including malvidin, cyanidin, peonidin, delphinidin, and petunidin; known to protect lung tissue from oxidative damage.

What are side-effects of Bronchitis treatments?

In general, there are no such adverse effects of bronchitis treatment. In a few cases where an individual is allergic to any element in the medication can have some side effects.

Should I go to urgent care for Bronchitis?

Even though it is easy to manage it can take a drastic turn if not taken care of on time. Contact your nearest medical services in case the bronchitis patient shows:

  • Mucus with funky colors like yellow, green, or blood.
  • Sour mouth, bad breath followed by unusual fluid in the mouth coming from the esophagus.
  • Shortness of breath, wheezing, or whooping sounds while breathing.
  • No signs of recovery in cough or chest discomfort within 3 weeks.
  • Night cough.
  • Fever above 100.4F.

How Long Does It Take To Recover From Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is categorised in acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis. Acute bronchitis is normally occurring because of infections or exposure to dust, chemical fumes or any other lung irritant resulting into inflammation of the airways of lungs. Cough lasting for 3-4 days in dry form and converting into cough with mucus remains for three to four weeks.

The treatment plan should be followed in the manner as prescribed and acute bronchitis went away in 3-4 weeks if lungs are not much damaged and working properly. A cigarette smoker is at higher risk of occurring chronic bronchitis as it have cough with mucus or phlegm and sometimes blood, too.

Once treatment is started and followed properly, then chronic bronchitis needs recovery time-period of minimum three months to two constructive years.

Do you need antibiotics for bronchitis?

There is no such requirement for antibiotics to cure bronchitis. In most acute cases, the patient heals through self-care only. But in severe cases, doctors will prescribe a specific set of antibiotics to prevent bronchitis from turning into pneumonia. Here is the list of antibiotics that are commonly prescribed to treat severe cases of bronchitis:

  • Doxycycline
  • Amoxicillin
  • Azithromycin

NOTE: Prolog consumption of antibiotics in bronchitis might develop health problems like rash, diarrhea, antibiotic-resistant infection, or even C. diff infection which might lead to a severe cold or even death.

How do you know when the bronchitis is getting better?

Generally, the symptoms in acute bronchitis start to fade away eventually and the patient feels more healthy than before. Since chronic bronchitis includes frequent relapse of the disease, it is hard for a layman to detect the progress of the treatment on its own. So, only the medical professionals can provide the exact progress of the treatment through tests and examinations.

Will bronchitis go away on its own?

Generally, bronchitis usually gets better on its own. If not, one can use some self-care methods like:

  • Use a clean humidifier or cool mist vaporizer.
  • Frequently use saline nasal spray or drops to relieve a stuffy nose. For young patients, use a rubber suction bulb to clear mucus.
  • One can breathe in steam from a bowl of hot water or shower.
  • Suck on lozenges. (NOTE- Do not give lozenges to children younger than 4 years of age).
  • Use natural products like honey to relieve coughs for adults and children at least 1 year of age or older.
  • Get plenty of rest and drink plenty of fluids.

Are the results of the treatment permanent?

If the patient has successfully undergone the treatment without any complications, bronchitis may lead to remission.

Amongst all cases, the success rate of the treatment within three months is quite high.

What to eat for Bronchitis?

Food can create a great change when it comes to fighting diseases. Here are some of the food items that help you manage bronchitis:

  • Protein, carbs, and good fats: During bronchitis one may feel tired as breathing can be an exhausting task. With difficulty in breathing your body has more levels of carbon dioxide than oxygen which makes the case even worse. Eating high-energy foods can cover that part of your body, making enough energy for breathing and other daily life activities.
  • Drink, drink and drink some more: Hydration plays a very important role, as it keeps your body moist and doesn't let the mucus stick to your air pipes. Avoid drinks with high sugar, caffeine, and carbon as it can make things worse.

What not to eat for Bronchitis?

Here is the list of food items that can make bronchitis worse:

  • Fried foods.
  • High-fat foods.
  • Dairy products.
  • High sodium foods.
  • Added preservatives or canned products.
  • Refined sugar.
  • Consumables that you are Allergic.

What is the price of Bronchitis treatments in India?

The cost of the treatment usually depends on the treatment plan. Medications or bronchodilators can cost you around 18-20 thousand a year. The bandwidth of expense is also determined by the type, severity of further complications associated with the medical condition.

The cost also depends on the hospital branch, your location, and if the patient is under medical insurance or not.

Physical Exercises for the people suffering from Bronchitis:

Since bronchitis affects your lungs, it is advisable to keep your fitness regime light and discuss it with your doctor beforehand. Avoid any pressure on the physical lungs, it can make things worse.

Here are some of the exercises that you can peruse for a healthy lifestyle:

  • Swimming: Diving in warm moist water can be good exercise. The pressure of water on your chest can help you breathe better. Make sure it is free from pollen and high levels of chlorine.
  • Walking: Walking in the early morning warm can be beneficial for the patient. Do not overuse your lungs as it can worsen the situation. If it's cold outside, use an indoor track to keep it moving.
  • Hiking: To spice up your fitness regime you can go for a steady incline or almost flat areas to hike upon. Make sure to check for any allergic pollen to prevent oneself further complications.
  • Sports with a short span of exertion: Sports like cycling, football, golf, gymnastics, etc. Have room for intermissions in case one is feeling low on oxygen during exercise.
Summary: Bronchitis can be described as a respiratory disorder that causes inflammation in the bronchial tubes caused by bacteria or viral infections. It can be short-lived or prolonged, but in both cases it makes you feel breathless so treatment is recommended.


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Written ByDr. Mool Chand GuptaMD - Pulmonary,MD PULMONARY,DTCDPulmonology
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