Acute bronchitis, which often follows as bad cold, is an inflammation of the lining of the tubes (bronchi) that branch into the lungs. This lining, covered with tiny hairs (cilia) and lubricated by mucous secretions, cleans the air you inhale. When infected, the bronchi become clogged with mucus, making it difficult to breath and often causing a cough. You may also develop a fever. Viruses are the most common cause of acute bronchitis although bacteria are also implicated, especially after a viral infection. A few days after the onset of acute bronchitis, you may cough up yellowish phlegm; this condition usually lasts ten days to two weeks.
Heavy smoking can cause acute bronchitis and, in some cases, so can dust or air pollution. Any of these factors can cause the irritation necessary to inflame the bronchial tubes.
While chronic bronchitis tends to be permanent problem. Its symptoms are similar to those of asthma but are often worse: coughing may be severe, phlegm (sputum) may be greenish yellow and as much as 30 grams a day may be coughed up.
The most common cause of chronic bronchitis is heavy smoking too. Statistics show that the disease kills three times as many men as women, but this ratio may be changing, as more men than women are giving up smoking. Air pollution, worse in urban areas, may play a secondary role in causing chronic bronchitis.
Known as chronic obstructive respiratory disease (CORD), chronic bronchitis brought on by smoking is one of the leading causes of respiratory failure (and death resulting from it). If the condition is caught early enough, and if its causes (cigarettes, pollution) are removed, it can be controlled and partially reversed.
Acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis treatment
You can treat acute bronchitis, which is usually controllable, by resting in a warm, humid room; inhaling vaporized air to loosen mucus in the bronchi; and drinking hot liquids to help you bring up mucus. Check with your doctor whether you should be using a cough medicine. If the condition worsens, call the doctor; antibiotics may be needed.
Chronic bronchitis requires the direct attention of a doctor. If you are a smoker, he will order you to stop. In addition, he will probably prescribe medicines: bronchodilators to help the bronchi to relax; antibiotics to fight the bacterial infection. He may also recommend oxygen.
Many doctors also recommend postural drainage – lying with the head lower than the chest –at least twice a day to help clear the lungs of mucus. If you are in a high-risk group, you may be advised to have a flu vaccine and a pneumonia vaccine to reduce the risk of catching these infections as well.