What is chronic bronchitis?
Before we look at chronic bronchitis, let us first understand what bronchitis is. The lungs contain a bronchial system, which resemble an upside down tree. The branches of this tree are called the bronchial tubes and it is their job to carry air into the smaller cells of the lungs once it has been passed through the mouth and the windpipe. When these tubes become inflamed, excess secretion of mucus can cause tissue swelling that can narrow the tubes and in some cases close them off all together. It is this narrowing of the tubes that is defined as bronchitis. There are two types of bronchitis: acute and chronic. Acute is usually short term and will last two weeks and a full recovery of the bronchial system is expected. Chronic on the other hand is defined as swelling and narrowing of the tubes lasting for at least three months. Many of the cells that move particles and mucus lose their function, and the cells that actually produce mucus increase. Long-term swelling can scar the inside of the bronchial system and the scarred areas will not clear the necessary particles. This can cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease that is a permanent narrowing of the airway. Chronic bronchitis can also worsen over time, as it is a progressive disease
What are the causes and symptoms of chronic bronchitis?
Although there are many causes of chronic bronchitis, the main cause is proven to be cigarette smoke. Just fewer than 50% of smokers will develop chronic bronchitis at some point in their lives. The inhalation of solvents, industrial pollutants and excessive smog can also lead to the development of this disease. But without doubt, the main cause of the disease is cigarette smoke, both directly and indirectly. There are three main symptoms of chronic bronchitis. The first and most common is a cough and the production of sputum. The severity of the cough and amount of sputum can vary depending on the patient. It is no surprise that the cough has been named a smoker's cough. Typically, the cough will be more severe in the morning and as the day goes on, less sputum will be produced. Shortness of breath is the second symptom. Like the cough, this will worsen as the disease progresses. This will usually begin when a minimal amount of activity is undertaken and will prevent the person from progressing with the activity further. The final symptom is a wheezing. This is a sound that can be detected when the person is breathing normally. It is caused by the airways being obstructed by particles or mucus.
What are the treatments?
Because the main cause of chronic bronchitis is cigarette smoke, the first step is to stop smoking or avoid second-hand smoke. Because of the addictive nature of nicotine, this is often ignored. This is not only advised to quit smoking to lessen the severity of bronchitis but to also prevent the progression of lung disease. A bronchodilator can be prescribed. This is going to relax the muscles that encase the bronchi and allow for the inner airways to expand and air to flow freely. The other common treatment is steroids. Steroids will reduce the inflammation and as a result decrease the swelling and again, allow airflow to pass unobstructed.
Can chronic bronchitis be prevented?
The best cure for chronic bronchitis is prevention. Do not start smoking and avoid the company of those that do. If you work in an industry that deals in airborne pollutants always wear the necessary breathing apparatus. 50% of smokers who develop chronic bronchitis, notice a decline in coughing after one month of abstaining from cigarette smoke. After two months, this number increases to 80%. Although this disease is progressive, if diagnosed early enough and positive steps are taken, the patient can suffer minimal effects and lead a healthier life for many years to come.