Chronic Bronchitis and You – Useful Insights and Natural Treatment
Could you be living with chronic bronchitis, and yet you don't know you do? Do you smoke and have a constant cough that does not clear? It is about time you realize what is behind that cough.
It is normal to cough once in a while when you are ejecting some foreign material from your throat. But, persistent coughing that continues for weeks could be a sign of lung disease such as chronic bronchitis.
What is Chronic Bronchitis?
Chronic bronchitis is a lung disease that occurs due to inflammation of the wall lining in your lungs' bronchial tubes or airways. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are two major lung diseases that make up COPD (chronic obstructive lung disease).
Chronic bronchitis takes the most significant share of 74 percent of lung diseases in the class of COPD. According to a health survey report of 2018 by the CDC, there were about 9.0 million adults with chronic bronchitis in 2017.
Bronchial tube inflammation is one sign of chronic bronchitis. The condition would then cause some thick mucus production, which is the reason for coughing constantly. When the thick mucus builds up, it narrows the bronchial tubes causing you to wheeze and have breathing difficulties.
Acute Bronchitis vs. Chronic Bronchitis
Bronchitis manifests differently due to its causing factor and the duration of the disease's symptoms. The two main types of bronchitis are:
Acute Bronchitis. Acute bronchitis is a short-course inflammation in the lining of the bronchial tubes. It is a contagious lung disease mostly caused by a virus.
Most acute bronchitis cases develop from an infection of the upper respiratory such as flu or a cold. Although severe, it would only last for a short period of about a few weeks. Acute bronchitis starts as a dry cough to then changes to a wet cough as it progresses.
Chronic Bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis involves chronic coughing that could last for about three months, twice in a year. The disease can repeat its symptoms manifestation pattern, which may take longer and continue to about two years. It is a common lung disease typically associated with people who smoke.
One common sign or symptom of chronic bronchitis is excess sputum production or chronic mucus hypersecretion (CMH). Chronic bronchitis has a high rate of lung function decline, with many hospitalization cases compared to other lung diseases of OCPD.
Is chronic bronchitis contagious? It is unlikely to be contagious since it is not a bacterial or a viral disease. Instead, it is caused by air-borne lung irritants you breathe in.
Chronic bronchitis never clears completely, even after treatment. It is a progressive type of lung disease of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
You can get infected with acute bronchitis while living with chronic bronchitis. When the two types of bronchitis are coexisting, you become contagious of acute bronchitis. After treatment, acute bronchitis would resolve, whereas, since chronic bronchitis is not curable, you can manage it effectively with the right treatment.
In the United States, chronic bronchitis is more prevalent in men than in women. The most common age of chronic bronchitis patients is between 44 and 65.
However, women who smoke are more susceptible or likely to get COPD. They are at a higher risk of respiratory failure and early death compared to men smokers.
Why are women more susceptible to chronic bronchitis? The anatomy of a woman's lungs is to blame for chronic bronchitis susceptibility in women. Women have smaller lungs than men, which is one reason among others that make women susceptible to chronic bronchitis.
Chronic bronchitis can comorbid with emphysema, another type of lung disease in the class of COPD. When both of these lung diseases coexist, you are said to have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD.
Chronic Bronchitis vs. Emphysema
What is the difference between emphysema and chronic bronchitis? The two lung diseases are the main types of COPD.
Chronic bronchitis and emphysema have almost similar symptoms that it would be difficult to tell them apart unless diagnosed. The two lung diseases cause coughing, albeit differently.
With chronic bronchitis, the cough would produce heavy and excessive phlegm. On the other hand, emphysema cough would produce mucus but not excessively.
One distinct symptom of chronic bronchitis is chronic coughing with excess mucus production. On the other hand, you can distinctly recognize emphysema by its severe shortness of breath, medically known as dyspnea.
The common cause of the two types of COPD is smoking, although each type has other varying causing factors.
While chronic bronchitis affects the airways or the bronchial tubes, emphysema affects the lungs' air sacs, also called alveoli. (Click to read more on emphysema).
Image testing is one diagnosing procedure used on both chronic bronchitis and emphysema. The images from such testing can distinguish the two diseases from the effect on the lungs.
How Does Chronic Bronchitis Progress?
In the early days of chronic bronchitis, there would be no symptoms, which is why many patients would have a late diagnosis.
As you progress with the disease, you start coughing with slight sputum production, which would not interfere with your breathing. Your mucous glands in the airways would begin to enlarge and increase mucus-producing goblet cells in the cilia (hair-like projections in bronchial tubes).
The goblet cells are useful in the lungs in trapping and expelling debris and other microbes from your airway and out of your lungs.
When there is no debris or microbes, mucous glands and the goblet cells revert to normal. At this early stage of chronic bronchitis, it is possible to revert your condition if you stop smoking or exposing yourself to the factors causing bronchitis.
If you continue exposing your lungs to cigarette smoke and other pollutants, your condition progresses further and becomes severe. Bronchial tube Inflammation also worsens in response to irritants, which represent a severe stage of chronic bronchitis.
The inflammatory hyperresponsiveness at this stage of severe chronic bronchitis would thicken the bronchial wall and cause mucus buildup. Both occurrences would lead to bronchial tubes' plugging to drastically reduce airflow and causing breathing difficulties, severe coughing, and wheezing.
Chronic bronchitis can exacerbate emphysema by progressing further to the lower respiratory section and affecting the bronchioles and the alveoli.
Without treatment to manage the severe stage of chronic bronchitis, the condition can further progress to the risk of getting other health complications.
Chronic Bronchitis Complications
Some of the complications caused by untreated or poorly treated and progressive chronic bronchitis are:
Pneumonia. Pneumonia is a lung inflammatory disease that affects the alveoli. Untreated chronic bronchitis can cause the infection to move further in the lower respiratory such as in the alveoli, leading to pneumonia.
Emphysema. Emphysema is another chronic lung disease of COPD, which affects the alveoli and can occur at the severe stage of chronic bronchitis.
Respiratory Failure. Respiratory failure is when the lungs fail to function as they should. It is a condition associated with a decline in gas exchange in the lungs. In that case, your body then would starve of oxygen and also retain excess carbon dioxide.
Cor pulmonale. Cor pulmonale is a heart condition caused by respiratory failure, affecting the heart's right ventricle.
Hypoxemia. Hypoxemia is low oxygen in the bloodstream. The restricted airflow exchange can lead to inadequate oxygen in the blood.
Hypercapnia. Hypercapnia, also called hypercarbia, is high carbon dioxide in the blood. The breathing disorder in chronic bronchitis can lead to elevated carbon dioxide in the bloodstream due to low exhalation.
Pneumothorax. In a severe case of chronic bronchitis, it can lead to lung collapse either partially or entirely.
Fatality. Inadequate functioning of the lungs can cause many health conditions leading to an early death. The mortality rate of chronic bronchitis is 50 percent within about ten years after diagnosis.
What are the Symptoms of Chronic Bronchitis?
You should visit your doctor immediately you notice some of the following chronic bronchitis symptoms:
- Persistent cough
- Mucus production while coughing
- Difficult breathing and shortness of breath
As chronic bronchitis progresses, you may experience additional symptoms such as:
- Chills and fever
- Chest tightness
- Squeaky sound when breathing
More additional symptoms of severe chronic bronchitis can include:
- Oxygen deficiency leading to bluish skin color, especially on the lips, headaches, and swelling of your legs and ankles
- Intense coughing
- Increased mucus production
- First heartbeat and other heart conditions
Risk Factors of Chronic Bronchitis
Even though anyone can get chronic bronchitis, some people are at a high risk of this lung disease.
The following are some of the chronic bronchitis risk factors:
Cigarette smoking. The common risk factor of chronic bronchitis is tobacco smoking. Most chronic bronchitis patients must have smoked sometimes in their life or are still smoking. You can also be at risk of chronic bronchitis if you are exposed to cigarette smoke.
Exposure to air pollutants. You are at risk of chronic bronchitis if you extensively expose yourself to other lung irritants such as toxic fumes and dust.
Female gender. If you are a female smoker, you are highly susceptible to chronic bronchitis in the future compared to your male counterpart.
Age. As age is setting in, so is the quick decline of health. When you are old, you become more susceptible to chronic bronchitis and other progressive lung diseases. It becomes worse if you once smoked or still smoking or if you have been exposed to air pollutants for most of your past life.
Genetics. Insufficient alpha-1 antitrypsin is a genetic condition that can risk put you at risk of chronic bronchitis. Alpha-1 antitrypsin is a specific protein produced by the liver to protect your lungs.
Family history. You are more likely to get chronic bronchitis if you come from a family with a health history of COPD.
Childhood respiratory infections. Frequent infections of the lower respiratory, such as pneumonia during childhood, can risk chronic bronchitis in the latter years.
What Causes Chronic Bronchitis?
Tobacco smoking in cigarettes, cigars, and pipes, whether direct or secondhand (passive), is the top cause of chronic bronchitis by 90 percent globally.
Other causes of chronic bronchitis are:
- Industrial or environmental dust
- Chemical dust and fumes
- Pet dander
- Extended exposure to other kinds of smoke such as coal, engine, and fire.
Even with cigarette smoke, the common cause of chronic bronchitis, it may be years before you notice any symptoms of chronic bronchitis. If you are at risk of chronic bronchitis, it is essential to have periodic chest examinations to ascertain your lungs' health.
Early diagnosis and immediate treatment can revert chronic bronchitis before it progresses further.
Chronic Bronchitis Diagnosis
How is chronic bronchitis diagnosed? Here are some of the procedures your doctor may choose to use when examining you for chronic bronchitis:
Health history. Once you specify how you are feeling and what you are experiencing, your doctor may ask you a few questions concerning your health history. The first question might be whether you once smoked or if you are currently smoking. Another question would be whether there is a medical history of COPD.
Physical Examination. Your doctor may then proceed with a thorough physical examination after noting everything about your medical and family history. Using a stethoscope, your doctor would listen to your lungs for any noise when you take deep breathes.
Sputum Test. Your doctor may request a sample of your sputum for a laboratory examination. The test would help to identify the exact cause of your cough.
Pulmonary Function Testing (PFT). There are two main pulmonary function test procedures for chronic bronchitis. These procedures are noninvasive but would successfully show how your lungs are functioning. The test results would show the lungs' volume, rate of airflow, and gas exchange capacity. To perform pulmonary function testing, your doctor may use either of these two tools:
Spirometer - A spirometer is a medical apparatus that measures air volume in your lungs when you breathe in and out. The device has a mouthpiece that goes in your mouth and connects to an electronic machine with a measuring air system.
Plethysmograph - A plethysmograph is an air-tight booth-like instrument that measures air variation in volume inside your lungs when you inhale deeply. The test would also measure the air volume in the lungs after exhalation. If your lungs are not sufficiently functional, the test results provide the information necessary.
X-Ray. A chest x-ray is an imaging test that would clearly show your lungs' condition to rule out other lung diseases when diagnosing chronic bronchitis.
Chest Computed Tomography (CT) Scan. A chest CT scan can help when diagnosing chronic bronchitis. If you are in doubt about your condition after a sputum test, your doctor can order a CT scan to be precise while making the right diagnosis.
High-Resolution Computed Tomography (HRCT) Thorax. HRCT Thorax is another imaging technology for testing chronic bronchitis. Some doctors would order this type of examination for lung testing. However, one report concludes that frequent HRCT can expose the patient to radiation, even when using a low radiation dose, risking lung cancer.
How to Treat Chronic Bronchitis
The standard chronic bronchitis treatment does not treat to cure but instead treats to improve the symptoms. The therapy is also useful in inhibiting the progression of the disease and preventing more complications.
Your doctor can choose your treatment from various chronic bronchitis therapy methods that might be suitable for your condition.
Continue reading to find out the conventional way on how to treat chronic bronchitis.
The following are some of the methods for treating chronic bronchitis:
Medications Bronchodilator. A bronchodilator is an inhaling therapy for opening your lungs' airways, especially when you're experiencing shortness of breath. Three of the common bronchodilators are:
Beta-2 agonists - Beta-2 agonists can either be inhaled or taken orally in the form of a tablet or syrup. It can also be injected or nebulized.
Anticholinergics - Anticholinergic comes as an inhaler or a nebulizer.
Aminophylline - Aminophylline is useful for severe chronic bronchitis. It is administered through the vein (intravenous).
Theophylline - Theophylline is another bronchodilator therapy in capsule, tablet, or liquid form. It is useful for emergency treatment when experiencing shortness of breath.
Some of the bronchodilators' side effects are hands trembling, headaches, dry mouth, palpitations, muscle cramps, nausea, and diarrhea.
Steroids. Steroids can either be used orally for rapid relief or inhaled to improve symptoms. However, steroids and especially the inhaled form, have some adverse side effects. The use of steroids can cause high blood pressure, weakened bones, cataracts, or diabetes. Please ask your doctor to explain what side effects you may experience when using steroids and other medicines for chronic bronchitis therapy.
Oxygen Therapy. Oxygen therapy for aiding oxygen inhalation is a procedure on a severe chronic bronchitis case. Your doctor can recommend oxygen therapy if you have complete breathing difficulties and that your oxygen level in the bloodstream is deficient.
Surgical Therapy. Lung transplant is a typical chronic bronchitis surgical therapy. If one of your lungs is severely damaged, a lung transplant would be the best therapy option.
Chronic Bronchitis Natural Treatments
You might choose to use natural treatment alongside your conventional treatment. Or, you might want to avoid the standard treatments probably because you are cautious of the side effects. Whichever is your reason, you may use either of the following natural remedies for chronic bronchitis:
Oregano. Oregano oil extract contains some natural antibiotics compounds useful in treating inflammation, which is the leading cause of increased mucus production in chronic bronchitis.
The active healing agents in oregano are carvacrol (an antioxidant agent) that helps clear irritants in the lungs and phenol useful for anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial. This natural remedy would, therefore, ease mucus buildup and chest congestion.
Panax Ginseng. Ginseng is an ancient herb common in the Asian region for various respiratory treatment remedies, including chronic bronchitis. The healing compounds in ginseng are ginsenosides useful in treating chronic bronchitis since they are anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative.
Turmeric. According to one study, turmeric contains curcumin, which is useful for a variety of healing effects. The compounds in curcumin have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, wound healing, and anti-tumoral activities. Administering curcumin to a chronic bronchitis patient can help to treat inflammation in the bronchial tubes.
Peppermint. The menthol in peppermint is useful for the relaxation of respiratory muscles and hence restoring easy breathing. Peppermint also helps to expel or remove the excess mucus from the bronchial tubes.
Echinacea. Echinacea is a world-known plant or herb that produces purple coneflower. In the case of chronic bronchitis, Echinacea can be useful as an anti-inflammation remedy.
Various studies conclude that Echinacea is useful in regulating immunity, helping you fight lungs' infection, and help you bounce back quickly to health after an illness.
Osha Roots. Osha plants have many health benefits and have remained in the Native Americans' medicine cabinet for centuries as traditional healing. The roots of Osha have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial effects. They are useful in boosting immunity, resolving bronchitis, pneumonia, and relieving indigestion. The camphor compound in the roots can help expectorate mucus buildup in the bronchial tubes to restore airflow.
However, Osha is a plant with a very close resemblance to poison hemlock, which is highly fatal when ingested. To avoid confusion between the two, you may seek expert guidance to identify the Osha plant from the poison hemlock.
Thyme. Thyme is useful in resolving your chronic bronchitis symptoms. It is a "secretory and bronchiolitis agent," according to one study. The extracts from thyme are useful in expelling mucus that has built up to clear the bronchial tubes. The compounds in the thyme can also help in dilating the airways to restore easy airflow.
However, it is vital to use an expert's help as this herbal plant can interfere with some of the standard drugs you might be using.
Ginger. Ginger is a popular herb most mothers use as a remedy for colds and flu. Ginger goes beyond that. It is a useful remedy for chronic bronchitis by fighting inflammation and expectorating the bronchial tubes to restore easy breathing.
Sage. Sage contains useful compounds such as camphor, salvene, thujone, and others useful in the expectoration of mucus buildup and freeing your airways of the mucus.
The bottom line to restoring healthy lungs is by getting the right chronic bronchitis diagnosis and treatment. However, it requires your full participation to realize the expected results.
Behavioral and lifestyle changes are some of the disciplines you must strictly adhere to in order to help you regain your respiratory health. You can seek guidance and support from your health practitioner on stopping smoking, which is the primary cause of chronic bronchitis.
While selecting herbs for treatment, it is essential to note that some herbal plants have their 'twin' or look-alike plants, which might be harmful. Also, not every herb can work in your condition. You might experience some reactions to a therapy that might have worked successfully for someone else. Therefore, it is essential to consult a natural health practitioner to prescribe the best herbal remedy that suits your case.
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Final Word: It is your right and not a privilege to wake up every single day, breathing in and out without any difficulties. Guard that right by staying healthy.
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This article is intended for educational purposes and the information contained within is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure any disease or health problem. Please seek appropriate medical attention for any health complaints. We cannot take responsibility for your health care decisions. Our intent is only to offer health information to help you with your search for better health.