Bronchitis occurs when breathing tubes called the bronchi get inflamed. This happens due to the excessive production of mucus and other inflammatory changes in the airway.
Bronchitis can often develop into a long-term condition called chronic bronchitis. A person suffering from this medical condition is more susceptible to lung infections. Smokers are the most likely candidates for chronic bronchitis.
There are two primary types of bronchitis: acute and chronic bronchitis. The latter falls under the category of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Here is a brief comparison of both types:
Acute bronchitis is commonly referred to as a chest cold. It takes a week to ten days to clear and has no permanent effects. However, the cough takes a few more weeks to disappear entirely.
A cough that persists from three months to two consecutive years is considered chronic bronchitis. It is a medical condition that keeps coming back and compromises the patient’s quality of life. The other form of chronic bronchitis is emphysema.
While chronic bronchitis is a progression of acute bronchitis, emphysema is slightly different. The differences between the two are as follows:
Chronic bronchitis is an advanced state of acute bronchitis wherein it causes COPD. It occurs due to the depletion of the cilia, hair-like structures that exist in the bronchi, and the tiny air tubes in the lungs.
The patient finds it difficult to empty their lungs of the accumulated mucus.
Emphysema is a condition wherein the lungs cannot transfer oxygen to the bloodstream. It causes difficulty in breathing due to reduced elasticity of the lungs.
Emphysema results in the alveoli, the air sacs of the lungs, getting damaged. It also causes swelling in the lungs, causing them to stretch irreversibly.
With chronic bronchitis, the symptoms may differ slightly from one patient to the other. However, here is a list of common chronic bronchitis symptoms:
- Dry cough (commonly known as “smokers’ cough”)
- Discomfort in the chest
- Wet cough accompanied by mucus
Patients suffering from chronic bronchitis are susceptible to respiratory tract infections, such as flu and common colds. It can lead to weight loss, muscular weakness and swelling in the extremities.
Viruses or bacteria do not cause chronic bronchitis. The general consensus is that smoking, including passive smoking and secondhand smoke, is one of the primary chronic bronchitis causes.
This kind of bronchitis can also occur due to dust or chemical fumes in a polluted workspace. Poor air quality due to air pollution is another cause.
A rare genetic condition, alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, is also believed to cause chronic bronchitis.
Although chronic bronchitis doesn’t have any cure, the symptoms can be addressed to slow down the disease and improve quality of life.
The lines of chronic bronchitis treatment are as follows:
Drastic lifestyle changes can help alleviate chronic bronchitis. The patient should quit smoking and even avoid passive smoking, as well as avoid areas with polluted air.
A balanced diet is recommended. Exercising and physiotherapy can strengthen the muscles and improve breathing.
Several medicines, such as bronchodilators, can be taken orally or through an inhaler. Some inhalers may contain steroids for a more extreme case.
Taking regular flu vaccines can also improve the immunity of a chronic bronchitis patient.
In extreme cases of chronic bronchitis, the patient may have to receive oxygen intermittently or continuously.
Pulmonary rehabilitation is an exercise programme to improve the functioning of the lungs. It also involves nutritional and psychological counselling.
Sometimes a lung transplant is recommended when all other lines of treatment fail.
Diagnosing chronic bronchitis involves a physical exam and a series of tests.
The common tests that are needed for chronic bronchitis diagnosis are as follows:
Pulmonary function tests
These tests check the functioning of the lungs. They are conducted by making the patient breathe into special machines such as:
A spirometer is a device that checks the functioning of the lungs. Spirometry is a simple lung function test:
- It provides information on the extent of how much the lungs move air and hold it within.
- It monitors response to treatment.
- It checks for other lung diseases.
- It evaluates if the nature of the lung disease is restrictive or obstructive (restrictive is where the lungs take in insufficient air, whereas obstructive lung disease is where the lungs fail to eliminate air insufficiently).
Peak flow monitor
A peak flow monitor measures the speed of air exhaled from the lungs.
Due to inflammation and mucus accumulation experienced in chronic bronchitis, the air speed can slow down considerably. The peak flow meter provides a direct correlation between airflow and lung health.
An oximeter is an instrument clipped onto the patient’s toe or finger. The digital display of the instrument shows the percentage oxygen level of the blood.
Arterial blood gas test
This blood test measures the oxygen-to-carbon dioxide ratio in the bloodstream. It also reveals blood acidity levels.
A chest x-ray gives a picture of the internal condition of the lungs.
Computed tomography (CT) scan
If a chest x-ray doesn’t provide sufficient details, a CT scan might be recommended.
Like an x-ray machine, a CT scan machine is a non-invasive instrument that provides high-definition images of the internal structure of the lungs.
Chronic bronchitis is a serious condition that needs immediate medical attention. The patient needs to undergo the required tests and make lifestyle changes as discussed above.
Medication and long-term therapy is widely advised. The main cause of chronic bronchitis is often traced back to smoking. Therefore, abstaining from smoking is the most effective way of preventing the onset of this medical condition.
Patients who experience chronic bronchitis symptoms should see a pulmonologist immediately. At the CK Birla Hospital, our experienced team of pulmonologists is qualified to deal with bronchitis, asthma, and COPD.
Patients can visit us or make an appointment with Dr Kuldeep Grover. We provide 24/7 emergency and critical services for patients with the highest level of medical aid to facilitate their recovery.