Bronchitis is inflammation of the inner lining of the bronchial tubes. These tubes in the lung carry air from the mouth and nose to the lungs. The swelling that occurs; it narrows the airway and causes coughing and can make breathing difficult. Irritation can also cause increased production of mucus that blocks the airway.
Depending on the cause, bronchitis can be classified as allergic, non-allergic, or asthmatic. While bronchitis symptoms may be similar regardless of the cause, there may also be differences, especially in how long a person will feel the effects of the condition.
What is Allergic Bronchitis?
Allergic bronchitis involves inflammation of the bronchi caused by an allergen or something you are allergic to. Airway irritants such as pollen, dust, and mold can trigger symptoms. Smoking can cause allergic bronchitis. Allergic bronchitis symptoms may persist for a long time or continue to recur. Allergic bronchitis lasting longer than three months is often referred to as chronic bronchitis. This is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Chronic bronchitis is often caused by smoking.
Symptoms of allergic bronchitis include:
- A cough that produces mucus
- Chest tightness
Bronchitis can also lead to complications. For example; Lung infection such as pneumonia may occur. In the most severe cases, pneumonia can lead to an infection in the bloodstream called septicemia. Septicemia is often life threatening.
What is Non-Allergic Bronchitis?
Non-allergic bronchitis occurs due to a viral or bacterial infection. For example; some people develop non-allergic bronchitis after a cold. Although anyone can develop non-allergic bronchitis, older adults have a higher risk of experiencing the condition. People with weakened immune systems and smokers also have a higher chance of developing bronchitis after an upper respiratory tract infection. Symptoms usually resolve within a few weeks and are less likely to recur than allergic bronchitis symptoms. Nonallergic bronchitis is sometimes referred to as acute bronchitis because symptoms can start suddenly and are typically short-lived.
Symptoms of non-allergic bronchitis are as follows.
- A cough that produces mucus
What is Asthmatic Bronchitis?
Like bronchitis, asthma is a lung condition that can cause breathing difficulties. Asthma can also cause inflammation of the bronchi, but can also lead to narrowing of the muscles around the airways. When bronchitis and asthma co-occur and symptoms overlap, the condition is commonly known as asthmatic bronchitis. After exposure to certain substances such as pollen, pollution, and cigarette smoke, inflammation that triggers asthma bronchitis symptoms may occur in a person with underlying asthma. Some people also develop asthmatic bronchitis due to a change in the weather or exercise, their routine.
People with asthmatic bronchitis respond to these environmental triggers by releasing leukotrienes. These are inflammatory molecules. Leukotrienes cause a number of reactions, including narrowing of the airway.
Asthmatic bronchitis symptoms include:
- Excessive mucus production
- Shortness of breath
How to Diagnose?
A doctor will diagnose allergic bronchitis based on several factors. They will review the medical history of the individual with suspected allergic bronchitis, as well as conduct a physical exam, often asking questions to determine how long the symptoms have been present. The doctor may use a chest X-ray to rule out some other causes of breathing problems, such as pneumonia. They may also order blood tests to help determine if there is an infection.
The patient may also receive a pulmonary function test. This involves blowing into a special device called an individual spirometer. The device measures how much and how fast a person can exhale. The test helps doctors determine the presence of lung diseases such as asthma and chronic bronchitis.
What is the Treatment?
Treatments for allergic and asthmatic bronchitis are generally similar and may include:
Bronchodilators are drugs that relax the muscles around the airways. As the muscles relax, the airways open or widen, which often makes breathing easier. People take bronchodilators with a metered dose inhaler. Both short-acting and long-acting bronchodilators are available. Short-acting bronchodilators act quickly to reduce symptoms, but their effect is not long lasting. Long-acting bronchodilators do not relieve symptoms as quickly but control symptoms for longer.
Steroids can also be used to treat allergic bronchitis. Steroids reduce inflammation in the bronchi. This action reduces coughing and can aid air flow in the lungs. Although steroids can be an intravenous or oral medication, a doctor will often administer them through an inhaler in cases of bronchitis. This allows the drugs to be delivered to the area requiring treatment faster and more effectively.
A mucolytic drug is a drug that makes mucus thinner and less sticky. This makes it easier to cough up the mucus from the lungs. People can take mucolytics by mouth or through a nebulizer. A nebulizer is a device that converts a liquid medicine into aerosol. A person can then breathe this aerosol.
In some cases, allergic bronchitis can interfere with the effectiveness of oxygen flow in and out of the lungs. Oxygen levels in the blood may be decreased in people with severe bronchitis. If oxygen levels are low, the doctor may recommend oxygen therapy. This can help bring oxygen levels back to normal.