Often, the disease can be confused with others that also affect the airways, such as asthma .
As much as the symptoms of the two are similar, the diagnoses are different, as well as the treatment for each of them.
Therefore, the ideal is always to see a doctor when you notice any abnormal symptoms.
In the International Classification of Diseases, ICD-10 , bronchitis can be found by the code J20 (acute bronchitis) and J41 (chronic bronchitis).
Types of bronchitis
Bronchitis manifests itself in two forms: acute and chronic. They are classified according to the duration and worsening of the symptoms. Find out more about each one below.
Also called a chest cold, this type of disease is, in most cases, an infection caused by viruses.
It can be a consequence of any cold or flu that the patient has caught previously, or it can also arise due to intense exposure to smoke or pollution.
In acute cases, bronchitis attacks and lasts for only a few days – usually, the cough lasts between 1 to 3 weeks.
If the symptoms persist for a longer time, it is recommended to be very careful, as it may be a chronic condition.
Chronic bronchitis is one of the conditions that are part of the group of diseases called COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).
It is considered more serious, requiring medical attention.
Usually, chronic bronchitis happens due to excessive tobacco consumption or strong exposure to pollution.
Both substances that limit the functioning of the bronchi and the respiratory tract, an anatomy that goes from the nose to the pulmonary alveoli.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), bronchitis is considered chronic when symptoms are present for at least 3 months a year and for 2 consecutive years.
In such cases, the symptoms return frequently and the patient may have the condition for the rest of his life.
What is the difference between bronchitis and asthma?
It is relatively common for people to view the two conditions as synonyms. But it must be emphasized that bronchitis and asthma are not the same disease .
To understand this difference, it is important to know what each one means and how they affect our bodies.
You already know that bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchi. But what about asthma?
Asthma is a type of chronic allergy in which there is an inflammation of the airways. It is usually related to exposure to irritating substances (allergens), such as pollen, mold and mites.
Upon contact with such substances, there is swelling, mucus production and narrowing of the airways. With this, the air finds it more difficult to reach the lungs. The result is bronchitis-like symptoms: shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing.
The big difference between diseases, then, is at the root of the problem. In acute bronchitis, for example, viruses and bacteria are usually the cause.
On the other hand, asthma tends to arise due to particular factors in each individual, in which the immune system reacts after coming into contact with certain triggers, resulting in allergy.
To ensure the correct diagnosis, it is essential to present a complete history during the consultation with the doctor, including reporting similar cases in the family – asthma, in some cases, has a genetic origin.
Does asthmatic or allergic bronchitis exist?
The terms “asthmatic bronchitis” and “allergic bronchitis” are often used, but they are also part of the confusion surrounding asthma and bronchitis.
Therefore, they are only popular or non-clinical nomenclatures to refer to asthma or its symptomatic conditions.
What are the causes of bronchitis?
Bronchitis can have different causes in each type. Get to know each one of them below:
The main cause of acute bronchitis are viruses from previous inflammation or influenza, which can be adenovirus, rhinovirus, influenza, etc. In these cases, the infection begins in the upper respiratory tract and reaches the bronchi.
In more rare cases, acute bronchitis can be caused by bacteria, such as Mycoplasma pneumoniae and Chlamydia pneumoniae , both of which cause pneumonia .
Exposure to irritating substances
In chronic bronchitis , the cause comes mainly from the inhalation of irritating substances, with tobacco being the main responsible for the disease. It is worth mentioning that passive smokers are also part of the risk group.
But in addition to cigarettes, chronic bronchitis can also develop due to overexposure to air pollution.
There is also the so-called “occupational bronchitis”, which is caused by the routine contact in the work environment with substances that can harm the lungs, such as: ammonia, chlorine and strong acids.
Is bronchitis contagious?
The main cause of acute bronchitis is viruses – the same ones responsible for causing colds and flu. For this reason, this type of disease can be transmissible.
Transmission occurs in the same way as in other respiratory infections.
That is, it occurs through the contact with secretions of a person infected with the virus by bringing the hands up to the nose, mouth and eyes.
When coughing or sneezing, the carrier spreads small particles that are suspended in the air and can reach a healthy person or settle on surfaces.
In the second situation, the virus can survive for up to 24 hours and infect others who touch these objects.
In cases of chronic bronchitis, there is no risk of transmission.
Groups of risk
In acute bronchitis, it is common for children under 5 years of age to be affected. The chronic condition appears more frequently in individuals over 50 years of age.
Other risk groups include:
- Smokers and people exposed to cigarette smoke;
- People diagnosed with lung disease;
- People with heart problems;
- People with gastric reflux;
- People with compromised immunity, such as the elderly and children;
- People who work in places that leave them exposed to irritating substances;
- People who are not vaccinated against the flu annually.
What are the symptoms of bronchitis?
Despite being a disease easily confused with other conditions that affect the respiratory system, there is a very characteristic symptom in bronchitis: cough . It may or may not be accompanied by phlegm – a dry cough presents only in the acute setting – and lasts for 5 days or more.
The symptoms that precede the attack of acute bronchitis are heartburn and difficulty breathing. In addition to them, headaches, sore throats and hoarseness can be seen – common in colds and flu. The patient usually feels better in a few days, but the cough tends to last for a few more weeks.
In addition to the common manifestations already mentioned, the chronic patient may experience effort in coughing and different respiratory complications. It is also common for crises to worsen in some periods.
Among the most common symptoms are:
Cough is the main symptom of bronchitis due to inflammation of the bronchioles mucosa, which generates irritation and tenderness in the region, leading to cough, which can be dry or with phlegm.
It is also possible to obstruct the pathways, making it difficult for air to pass, which aggravates the cough.
Although, often, the cough is dry, with the bronchitis worsening, it starts to be loaded with phlegm or sputum.
This is due to the increase in the mucous cells (hyperplasia) of the bronchi, which produce mucus.
Shortness of breathe
Shortness of breath is common due to airway obstruction, as inflammation makes it difficult for air to enter or exit the lungs.
Chest pains are caused by constant coughing, which causes strain on the muscles.
Wheezing in the chest
When breathing, it is common to have wheezing in the chest. This is because the airways are partially blocked or obstructed, making it difficult for air to pass and causing noise.
Due to the low intake of oxygen, it is possible that the patient feels intense tiredness or fatigue. In addition, due to the various inflammatory mechanisms, the body tends to be weakened and, therefore, weaker.
How long does the bronchitis crisis last?
Cases of acute bronchitis tend to last less time compared to chronic ones.
In the first situation, the symptoms usually persist for a maximum of 10 to 15 days, and the cough can remain for up to 3 weeks. In chronic bronchitis, the problem extends for months (at least 3).
Infantile bronchitis (in babies)
Bronchitis can also affect little ones. In these cases, the causes and symptoms do not differ from the manifestation in adults.
Especially in the acute condition, children under 5 are the most affected.
This is because they have, like the elderly, a weakened immune system and, therefore, more prone to infections.
The episodes also usually appear in association with colds and flu.
It is common that at the beginning of the manifestation of symptoms, the child presents with a dry cough, without the production of phlegm. However, in a short time that same cough starts to contain mucus.
In addition to the other symptoms common to respiratory infections, babies with bronchitis may suffer from vomiting and choking.
Parents should be on the lookout for any signs, as the similarity between some illnesses can confuse the diagnosis and hinder recovery.
At the same time, certain medications can be harmful to your child’s health.
Therefore, the best option is always to consult the pediatrician and avoid medication without medical knowledge.
When to see a doctor?
In addition to babies, it is important to seek medical help when the patient already has heart or lung problems, or when:
- The cough is impairing sleep and your daily activities;
- The cough has persisted for more than 3 weeks;
- Blood is present when coughing;
- The mucus is darker and thicker;
- There is weight loss for no apparent reason.
Cases of high fever , loss of appetite and shortness of breath also deserve attention, as they can be a sign of pneumonia.
How to diagnose bronchitis?
During the first few days that the symptoms appear, you can see the doctor who specializes in airway diseases: the pulmonologist.
He can provide the diagnosis by analyzing his history and symptoms.
In addition, you can order x-ray exams , sputum test and pulmonary function test ( spirometry ).
Commonly, the diagnosis is made only by clinical examination. In cases where the patient has a fever, the doctor may order an X-ray to rule out pneumonia.
The sputum test, on the other hand, serves to assess the origin of the mucus. Finally, spirometry measures the amount of air in the lungs and checks for signs of asthma or some other lung problem.
Bronchitis has a cure?
The answer to that question is: it depends . In acute bronchitis, caused by viruses or bacteria, the condition can be resolved and the patient is free of the problem in a few days or weeks.
In viral infections, for example, there is often no need to even take medication. In chronic conditions, there is no cure.
Treatment, in these cases, serves to prevent crises and disease progression.
What is the treatment?
Like symptoms and causes, treatments for bronchitis vary according to their type.
When the patient has allergies, asthma or any other lung condition, the doctor may order the use of the inhaler to facilitate breathing.
It is important that, in both conditions, the person maintains an exercise routine and a balanced diet to maintain a healthy weight and avoid complications.
Drinking plenty of fluids is also essential, as the practice prevents dehydration and helps to dilute the mucus contained in the lungs.
Check out more details about the treatment of each condition:
Treatment of acute bronchitis
Many cases of acute bronchitis are treated without medication and can be followed at home. This is because the condition tends to be fought by the body itself and usually improves in a few days.
The absence of drug treatment is also due to the lack of substances that fight viruses. In cases caused by bacteria, antibiotics can eliminate the infection.
Treatment is symptomatic, that is, it serves only to combat the symptoms, not the cause. In case of acute bronchitis, you should:
- Stay at rest;
- Fight cough with antitussives (not too much, since sputum is necessary to fight infection);
- Use expectorants in case of cough with sputum;
- Treat any fevers and headaches with pain relievers.
In the case of remedies, always remember to consult a professional before making use.
Read more: What is self-medication, causes and what are the consequences?
Treatment of chronic bronchitis
Chronic bronchitis has no cure. To maintain quality of life, the patient must adopt behavioral changes, especially with regard to contact with irritating substances.
The following tips help to improve the symptoms of the disease:
- Stop smoking, since tobacco can cause the disease;
- Avoid contact with cigarette smoke;
- If the cause is due to contact with chemicals or pollutants, the patient must stop or reduce contact with these agents;
- Make use of bronchodilators to reduce the component that narrows the bronchi;
- Avoid tranquilizers, as they can cause a depression in breathing due to their action on the Central Nervous System (CNS);
- Practice therapies that assist in pulmonary rehabilitation, such as physical therapy.
In more severe cases, the doctor may prescribe oxygen inhalation to open the airways.
In addition to these items, it is important that the patient who has chronic bronchitis is vaccinated annually against the flu and also against pneumonia.
The prescription of drugs does not happen in all cases of bronchitis. In general, the condition resolves itself. However, in some situations, it is possible that the doctor recommends the use of some drugs.
It is worth remembering that the drugs listed here are the most recurring, but do not forget that only the doctor responsible for your treatment is able to indicate the best one according to your clinical condition.
Know the main drug classes used in cases of bronchitis:
Bronchodilators help to open the airways, keeping the bronchi relaxed to facilitate the passage of air and reduce inflammation. Some medications include:
- Formoterol ;
- Formoterol Fumarate Dihydrate + Budesonide;
- Acebrophylline ;
- Aminophylline ;
- Ipratropium bromide ;
- Fenoterol hydrobromide .
Used in the treatment of chronic inflammatory diseases, corticosteroids help fight inflammation in the lungs, helping to keep the airways open.
This type of medication is also used in cases of asthma and COPD. Among the options are:
Painkillers are useful to relieve some symptoms of acute bronchitis, such as pain and fever. Potions can include:
- Paracetamol ;
- Ibuprofen .
They are indicated to stop the flow of mucus and restrict the coughing reflex. That is, they serve only to relieve cough temporarily.
If used for a long time, with the intention of curing a cough, they can cause mucus to become trapped in the lungs, increasing the risk of developing a bacterial infection.
Antibiotics are not usually indicated in cases of infections caused by viruses, as they are not able to fight the agent.
But this type of medication can be indicated when bronchitis is caused by bacteria or in patients who are at risk of complications, such as:
- Premature babies;
- People over 80 years old;
- People who have lung, kidney, heart or liver diseases;
- People with very low immunity;
- People with cystic fibrosis.
The list of antibiotics that can be prescribed includes:
- Amoxicillin + Potassium Clavulanate ;
- Azithromycin ;
- Clindamycin ;
- Clarithromycin .
- Levofloxacin .
NEVER self-medicate or stop using a medication without first consulting a doctor. Only he will be able to tell which medication, dosage and duration of treatment is the most suitable for his specific case. The information contained on this site is only intended to inform, not in any way intended to replace the guidance of a specialist or serve as a recommendation for any type of treatment. Always follow the instructions on the package insert and, if symptoms persist, seek medical or pharmaceutical advice.
Home treatment and natural remedy
Some homemade measures can help to relieve symptoms and prevent bouts of bronchitis. Remember, however, that any practice should be reported to the doctor and should not replace the professional’s recommendations . Check out some options:
Certain plants have enormous medicinal power in helping to treat various diseases, including bronchitis. In this case, there are 4 types of teas you can make to improve your symptoms:
- Elderberry and guaco tea with honey;
- Ginger root tea;
- Fennel seed tea;
- Mauve tea.
Using a vaporizer or humidifier can help loosen the mucus in your throat and decrease your wheezing, as well as improve your breathing.
These devices emit steam in order to increase the humidity levels in the air.
It is important to pay attention to the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning to avoid the proliferation of bacteria and fungi.
Does home remedy for bronchitis work?
Every home remedy should be used to complement clinical treatment and cannot be a substitute for it.
In general, natural and homemade options can help relieve symptoms and improve the patient’s condition, but if there is a need for medication, these options cannot be used alone.
If bronchitis is not treated properly, it can develop into pneumonia.
In the case of chronic bronchitis, the complications are even more worrying, as there are chances of the patient contracting pulmonary emphysema, which can later become COPD.
This complication occurs when the infection spreads through the lungs and reaches the alveoli (small air sacs), filling them with liquid.
People with compromised immunity, the elderly, smokers and patients with heart problems are more likely to have pneumonia.
The characteristic symptoms are: cough, high fever, chills and difficulty breathing.
In babies there may be vomiting, restlessness, tiredness and loss of appetite.
In the case of the elderly, the most frequent signs are changes in appetite and apathy, usually the only symptoms of the disease.
As it is a potentially serious condition, it is essential to seek medical help as soon as there is any symptom manifestation.
Pulmonary emphysema is a chronic condition that also affects the alveoli (small air sacs in the lungs).
Unlike pneumonia, in this case these structures end up becoming inflated due to damage that causes destruction of the lung tissue.
Thus, the air gets trapped in the lungs and the patient has difficulty breathing.
The biggest cause is smoking , but emphysema can also arise due to exposure to air pollution and genetic factors.
COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
COPD is not a disease in itself, but a group of conditions. In order to have a diagnosis, the patient must have chronic bronchitis and pulmonary emphysema simultaneously.
This progressive condition causes pulmonary dysfunction, causing the respiratory function to be severely impaired.
Symptoms include shortness of breath when performing simple activities, chronic coughing, fatigue , overproduction of mucus and ease in contracting respiratory infections.
COPD is a disease that deserves attention. According to the Global Burden of Disease study , it was the 5th leading cause of death in Brazil in 2017.
The expressive position in the ranking goes against another important fact: in the same period, smoking – the biggest cause of COPD – was considered the main risk factor associated with deaths in the country.
Some tips to reduce the risk of getting bronchitis are:
- Avoid smoking : smoking increases your risk of getting chronic bronchitis;
- Get vaccinated : several cases of acute bronchitis are caused by viruses, most often by the Influenza type. Therefore, being up to date with vaccination is essential;
- Always wash your hands : to avoid contracting a viral disease, always keep your hands clean;
- Wear surgical masks : if you already have a chronic lung disease, wear masks in the workplace and in crowds to avoid exposure to irritating substances.