Bronchitis can be divided into the mostly harmless acute bronchitis and the more severe chronic bronchitis. While acute bronchitis is mostly triggered by an infection of the respiratory tract, the cause of chronic bronchitis is mostly smoking or prolonged inhalation of harmful substances.
What is bronchitis?
The term bronchitis comes from ancient Greek and means: bronche = throat, itis = inflammation). A distinction is made in bronchitis between acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis. In addition, if bronchitis is delayed and not completely cured, the risk of pneumonia should not be underestimated.
Causes of Chronic Bronchitis
The causes of chronic bronchitis are usually the inhalation of pollutants from the air; smokers are particularly at risk here. There is also a risk of this in various professions, for example in mining through inhalation of dust. Other causes are pollutants from the environment due to environmental pollution, as well as frequent infections of the respiratory tract.
Causes of Acute Bronchitis
Acute bronchitis is usually caused by virus infestation of various types; in very rare cases bacteria can also be a cause of acute bronchitis.
Symptoms, ailments & signs
Acute bronchitis is often heralded by an infection of the upper respiratory tract. The mouth, nose and throat area is particularly affected. At the onset of the disease, there is a fever, chills, and other flu-like symptoms. This is accompanied by a runny nose, sneezing, difficulty swallowing and a burning sensation in the throat.
As is typical for viral infections, there are usually muscle and joint complaints, and bone pain can also occur occasionally. After the infection, the typical bronchitis symptoms are added to this complaint, i.e. sore throat and dry cough, which is accompanied by sputum in the course. The secretion can change in texture and color as the bronchitis progresses.
At the beginning it is whitish-slimy, in the later stages it often becomes yellowish-greenish. Blood in the secretions indicates a serious illness that should be examined by a doctor. When there is a lot of mucus, the breathing sounds change and are increasingly whistling or humming. The cough is usually rattling or rattling.
The bronchitis makes the bronchial tubes significantly more sensitive to external stimuli. This leads to an increasing number of very painful coughs, which often appear in attacks. Regardless of the cough, pain behind the breastbone also occurs in the acute phase of the disease. If the course is severe, there may be difficulty breathing and weakness.
Acute bronchitis disease course
If there are no particular complications, acute bronchitis usually lasts no more than eight to ten days. No complications should arise here, especially in healthy people with strong defenses. If the course is unexpectedly longer, you should always consult your family doctor.
Symptoms in most cases are: cold symptoms, thick voice, scratchy throat, increased discharge, difficult breathing, headache and body aches. Usually after two to three days there is a painful cough with whitish to yellowish, with bacterial cause, greenish sputum. In addition, there is a fever of about 38 to 40 degrees and a burning sensation behind the breastbone.
The course of chronic bronchitis:
The course of chronic bronchitis is very different, the most important thing here is how quickly the pollutants (smoking, toxic gases and vapors, dust) are found and avoided accordingly. If you are still exposed to the pollutants, there is a high risk that the heart and lungs will be massively affected.
Acute bronchitis usually heals without any consequences. The disease can develop into chronic bronchitis in old people, smokers or patients with a reduced immune system; This can lead to pneumonia and other complications. In severe cases, chronic obstructive bronchitis develops, which is associated with inflammation, purulent sputum and shortness of breath.
In addition, bronchial spasms and bronchial obstruction, a pathological narrowing of the bronchi, can occur. If the course is severe, chronic complaints such as coughing and sputum develop that never go away completely. The complications increase as the disease progresses and are associated with a reduced life expectancy.
Bronchopneumonia, which can occur as a result of a weakened immune system, is less severe. Complications of such pneumonia are symptoms of fever and deterioration in the general condition, and breathing difficulties that can cause cyanosis, tachycardia and confusion. As a result of bronchopneumonia, lung abscesses can also develop, which contribute to the worsening of the general condition. There are usually no serious complications associated with treating bronchitis.
When should you go to the doctor?
As a rule, bronchitis heals within a few days or weeks and does not require a visit to the doctor. This is the case as long as the symptoms do not worsen, there is no shortness of breath and the feeling of illness is limited.
However, if the bronchitis lasts longer than two weeks, a visit to the doctor is indicated. A secondary infection or a migration of the infection to other parts of the respiratory system must be clarified. The doctor should also be consulted if shortness of breath occurs. In such cases, chronic bronchitis with damage to the airways can occur. The same applies if there is a high fever.
As a secondary infection of the bronchial tubes with bacteria becomes more likely as the bronchitis persists, medical care is necessary. Here antibiotics must be used to avoid further damage to the airways. A visit to the family doctor is usually sufficient.
Particular attention should be paid to young children. They are more prone to convulsions caused by coughing, which affects the development of the bronchi. A visit to the doctor should take place if the child visibly cramps, exhales whistling or develops a high fever.
Older people shouldn’t wait two weeks to see a doctor either. Your bronchial tubes are usually weaker and therefore bronchitis can manifest itself more quickly.
Treatment & Therapy
Treatment of acute bronchitis:
Nasal drops, inhalation, baths, plenty of drinking, strengthening of the general immune system, if necessary bed rest, and painkillers if necessary should help. A family doctor should also be consulted in severe cases.
Treatment of chronic bronchitis:
Treatment is the same as for acute bronchitis. In addition, if smoking is the cause, there is an absolute smoking ban. A lot of exercise in the fresh air is also helpful. In this case, regular inhalation over a longer period of time is also necessary. In the case of chronic bronchitis in particular, treatment is also carried out through physiotherapeutic breathing exercises.
However, once the chronic inflammatory process of bronchitis has started, it can hardly be completely cured. Since smoking is by far the most common cause of chronic bronchitis, the best prevention is not to smoke.
Chronic bronchitis is often treated with endurance exercises such as cycling or walking on the flat, i.e. with moderate exertion.
In addition, instructions on how to use medication are required in the case of chronic bronchitis. Oxygen may be added here as a preventive measure. Plenty of fluid intake is also required in chronic bronchitis, as this promotes the mucus loosening. The therapy of chronic bronchitis is often supported by the prescription of tapping massages.
Special drugs are administered here that dilate the bronchi, as well as antibiotics. If the cause of the chronic bronchitis is not smoking, you should consider moving to a humid and salty area (North Sea, Baltic Sea). Treatment of chronic bronchitis should always be accompanied by a doctor.
Outlook & forecast
The prognosis for bronchitis is generally good for people with a healthy immune system. The disease is usually treated on an outpatient basis. With early medical care, medication will provide rapid relief from the symptoms. The state of health improves considerably within a few days. An existing cough heals more slowly, so that the patient often only becomes completely free of symptoms after 1-2 weeks.
If the bronchitis is delayed, the healing process is extended. In addition, the risk of developing chronic diseases increases. Patients at risk include people with an existing lung disease, a weakened immune system or people of old age. If left untreated, pneumonia can lead to a life-threatening condition and death of the patient. In addition, if bronchitis is untreated, there is a risk of bacterial infection. The secondary infection worsens the general state of health considerably and can trigger further complications.
Elderly or already ill people have an overall increased risk of various complications from bronchitis and must be prepared for a longer healing process. There is a risk of permanent tissue damage to the lungs or blockage of some areas of the lungs. This leads to impaired breathing and the risk of mental illnesses such as an anxiety disorder increases.
Follow-up examinations are usually not necessary for bronchitis. However, if symptoms of the disease such as difficulty breathing or dry cough are still present after a period of six weeks, it is advisable to consult your family doctor or a specialist. In this case, there is a risk of chronic bronchitis. In elderly patients, those with a weakened immune system and COPD patients, a check-up is not always necessary, but it is often advisable.
There are usually no complications in children. Their bronchitis heals quickly, so usually no follow-up care or medical examinations are necessary. For all concerned, general rest is the most important measure after bronchitis. Physical and psychological overexertion should be avoided.
Depending on the severity of the disease and the general health of the person, it may be advisable to postpone stress-related activities such as exams or travel. In addition, those affected should not expose themselves to strong temperature fluctuations.
Care should also be taken to ensure high humidity in the weeks after the illness. Therefore, the living spaces should not be overheated. Since the immune system is weakened by bronchitis, the risk of infection with infections should be reduced, especially in the cold season.
You can do that yourself
Bronchitis is very easy to treat at home. Numerous home remedies can be used against the strong cough. Physical rest is fundamentally important so that the body can adjust to the healing process. In addition, care should be taken to increase the fluid intake, as the accompanying fever increases the amount of perspiration.
Against the strong cough helps a tea mixture of sage, thyme and plantain – this acts as a natural cough suppressant. Thyme and sage are astringent and antibacterial in their effects. Sage can also be sucked in the form of lozenges to relieve existing hoarseness. If there is an accompanying fever, it is beneficial to endure it in a controlled manner.
It is the body’s most powerful healing response. An antipyretic can be taken before going to bed. Particularly with children, caution is advised here, since with a high fever there is a risk of a night-time febrile seizure. Otherwise, you can use leg wraps or a full body cooling in the bathtub to gently lower the temperature.
The homeopathy offers several preparations on for supportive treatment. These include Aconita, Belladonna or Nux Vomica for the first cough. Causticum is a natural cough suppressant. For a dry cough, Spongia, Drosera and Bryonia, Pulsatilla for a productive cough are recommended. If after three days there is no improvement, the fever is persistently high, pain or a bloody sputum occurs, those affected should see their doctor.