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Most of us have heard the term “bronchitis,” but with so many other respiratory conditions it can become quite confusing to figure out which one is which. Even though the name may be simple and easy to pronounce, the condition can have significant effects. Essentially, bronchitis is an inflammation of the larger airways in the lungs, versus bronchiolitis which occurs in the smaller airways. The cause is often the result of an infection from a virus, hence the term “acute” bronchitis – which means it is a sudden onset. It may appear to be an upper respiratory tract infection with a cough, production of sputum, aches, pains, sore throat and not feeling well overall. As with many illnesses, it always seems to last too long but usually recovery is expected in 7 to 10 days and the goal during that time is to help keep the symptoms under control. Because the cause is usually a virus, antibiotics do not work, so they will not help, unless a secondary infection develops, which will then need further treatment by a medical professional.
If someone has a pre-existing lung condition such as asthma or chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD), an acute bronchitis can make this much worse. Breathing can become much more difficult and someone who may have been using supplemental or home oxygen at certain times of the day may require it for a longer duration of time, until the acute episode has resolved.
On the other hand, some people develop chronic bronchitis, which means this will be an ongoing condition. There is higher level of production of mucus in the lungs as well as having a chronic cough. If there is some obstruction or blockage from the secretions, this will make it harder to move the air in and out of the lungs, resulting in more shortness of breath, especially with any type of activity. Further testing is usually done to check how low the oxygen levels are, and it can even result in requiring oxygen for long-term use. One of the frequent causes is cigarette smoking, and the key is then to quit smoking, in order to prevent further long term damage.
Overall, bronchitis even if it is an acute episode, can be uncomfortable and long term. It can result in permanent lifestyle changes. How would your life be affected by being short of breath performing simple activities or having to adjust to using oxygen??
Author: Cheryl A. Acres RN, CCM