Comprehensive Understanding of Acute Bronchitis
Is your common cold taking more time than usual to clear and probably even getting worse? It might be more than a cold. It might be acute bronchitis, which is also known as a chest cold.
It is a lung disease exacerbated in cold seasons and more prevalent during the winter season.
Most acute bronchitis cases are viral, which likens to the common cold, albeit worse. Some acute bronchitis cases progress from a common cold or flu. Although acute bronchitis is more severe than a common cold, it is milder than pneumonia.
What is Bronchitis?
Bronchitis is a general name of two diseases, acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis. The two conditions affect the bronchial tubes or lungs' airways. When bronchitis affects your bronchial tubes, it causes inflammation and hence produces some thick mucus.
Excess mucus production can constrict the bronchial tubes to cause coughing, wheezing, and breathing difficulties. These characteristics are some of the bronchial symptoms.
What is Acute Bronchitis?
Acute bronchitis is a viral or bacterial inflammatory disease that affects the bronchial tubes of the lungs. The bronchial tube inflammation causes mucus buildup, which constricts the airways leading to breathing difficulties.
Acute bronchitis is a contagious lung disease. An infected person can transmit the germs through inhaling, coughing, or sneezing droplets. You can also get the germs through contact when you touch surfaces or hands that have droplets with viral or bacterial germs.
Acute bronchitis is among the top ten typical cases of patients seeking medical attention in most hospitals at a single time.
Acute Bronchitis vs. Chronic Bronchitis
Two types of bronchitis are acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis. Although they have almost similar symptoms, they differ in various ways.
Chronic bronchitis is a long-lasting lung disease that is not curable. It is in the class of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) that affects the bronchial tubes. Another COPD disease is emphysema, which affects the alveoli or the air sacs.
Acute means short-term. Therefore acute bronchitis develops quickly, but it is not long-lasting.
Most of the symptoms except coughing can last for a short period lasting about two weeks. Most often, coughing remains until about eight weeks, when the bronchial tubes completely heal.
On the other hand, chronic bronchitis is a long-term type that can last three months or beyond and can occur in subsequent episodes every year.
Acute Bronchitis vs. Bronchiolitis
What is the difference between acute bronchitis and bronchiolitis?
Bronchitis and bronchiolitis may sound the same, although they are two different respiratory diseases.
Acute bronchitis occurs due to an infection of the bronchial tubes or bronchi typically caused by flu or cold-causing viruses. It can also be an outcome of direct or passive cigarette smoking.
Bronchiolitis is usually a lung infection in infants and children, although adults can get it as well. It is a viral lung infection that affects the bronchioles or the smallest airways connecting to the alveoli or air sacs. The viral infection causes inflammation in the bronchioles, which often makes them constrict.
Bronchiolitis has almost similar symptoms to acute bronchitis. The effects of narrowed small airways are wheezing, coughing, and breathing difficulties.
Acute Bronchitis vs. Pneumonia
What is common between acute bronchitis and pneumonia? Both are lung infections caused by either viruses or bacteria. These two lung diseases may reveal almost the same symptoms even though the pneumonia symptoms may be more intense than acute bronchitis.
The most significant difference between acute bronchitis and pneumonia is the location of the infection caused by the two conditions in the lungs. While acute bronchitis affects the trachea and the bronchial tubes, pneumonia affects the air sacs or the alveoli.
Treatment of the two diseases also differs, which is why it is essential to visit a doctor to diagnose your condition for the right treatment as early as possible.
Pneumonia is life-threatening if left untreated, especially for vulnerable people such as those with other chronic diseases, low immunity, infants and babies, or those aged above 50 years.
How Does Acute Bronchitis Happen?
Acute bronchitis typically occurs from one of the viruses that cause the common cold or flu. Some of the viruses that cause either common cold or flu are rhinovirus, adenovirus, respiratory syncytial, coronavirus, and influenza virus.
Either a common cold or flu can precede or progress into acute bronchitis.
The virus gets into the bronchial tubes from the nose and throat (trachea) to cause acute bronchitis. What you should know is that you cannot have a cold and the flu simultaneously. You can only have one of the two at one time.
Acute bronchitis occurs and causes symptoms suddenly, unlike chronic, which remains over time without showing any signs.
The infection then causes inflammation, swelling, and constriction of the bronchial tubes, and mucus buildup. Due to the tubes' constriction presence of excess mucus, you start to cough, wheeze and sometimes experience shortness of breath.
Acute bronchitis cough may begin as dry (non-productive), which is rare or wet with mucus (phlegm) production.
Acute bronchitis is a short-term lung infection from the flu or common cold virus. Smoking can exacerbate the symptoms as the cigarette smoke worsens the inflammation of the airways.
Acute bronchitis is curable, unlike chronic bronchitis, which has no cure yet. If you have a healthy immunity, you are unlikely to require treatment. Your immune system can fight the infection to regain health.
If another health condition that has compromised your immunity, you may require some treatment to help you resolve the symptoms.
Acute bronchitis symptoms can last between a week and ten days. However, coughing can continue a little longer until the bronchial tubes regain their form.
Acute Bronchitis Symptoms
Acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis differ in disease intensity and duration. However, the two have almost similar symptoms.
Some of the acute bronchitis symptoms are:
- Frequent coughing with mucus or phlegm production (white or yellow)
- Chest tightness, congestion, or pain
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Sore throat
- Shortness of breath on exertion
- Fever of between 37.7 and 38.0 degrees Centigrade
- Weakness and tiredness
Although acute bronchitis can clear on its own without any treatment, what should alarm you and prompt a doctor's visit immediately are the following symptoms:
- Extreme shortness of breath
- Fever beyond 38 degrees centigrade
- Chest pain
- Heavy cough that goes beyond ten days
Three Stages of Acute Bronchitis
You can sum the entire course of acute bronchitis from the time of its onset to when it resolves into three stages:
Stage One. In the immediate onset of acute bronchitis stage one, you may experience a dry cough that would not produce phlegm or mucus. It is the stage between a cold or flu and acute bronchitis.
The infection may still be on the upper respiratory part but progressing rapidly to the bronchial tubes.
Stage Two. At stage two, the infection has already progressed to the lower respiratory in the bronchial tubes. At this stage, the disease is at its highest and may cause a productive cough, wheezing, fever, chills, and other symptoms.
Stage Three. Stage three is the final one of acute bronchitis when the symptoms have been resolved. It is also called post-bronchitis syndrome. Although the symptoms have cleared at this stage, coughing may remain for some time until the bronchial tubes have restored to health.
What Causes Acute Bronchitis?
The following are some acute bronchitis causing factors:
Viruses. Common cold and flu viruses cause about 85 to 95 percent of acute bronchitis cases. The most common causing viruses are influenza A and B, rhinovirus, parainfluenza, and adenovirus. Viral infections are contagious.
Bacterial infection. The bacteria that can cause acute bronchitis is commensal. Commensal bacteria is an emerging player in defense against respiratory pathogens. Instead of the bacteria causing disease, it prevents invasion from other pathogens.
However, commensal bacteria can cause acute bronchitis in people with compromised immunity and underlying health conditions.
Some of the bacterial infections that cause acute bronchitis are Haemophilus influenzae, Moraxella catarrhalis, Chlamydia pneumoniae, Mycoplasma pneumoniae, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and bordetella pertussis. Please note that bacterial infections are also contagious.
Irritants. Some airborne irritants that can cause acute bronchitis are cigarette smoke, whether direct or secondary, other smoke, and chemical fumes.
Acute Bronchitis Risk Factors
Some people are more susceptible to acute bronchitis more than others. Some of the risk factors of acute bronchitis are:
- Family history of acute bronchitis or COPD
- COPD patients
- Smoking tobacco
- Vaping or smoking e-cigarette
- Weak immunity and low resistance to diseases
- Old age 50 years and above
- Exposure to air irritants
- GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
Acute Bronchitis in Children
Children can also get acute bronchitis and have the same symptoms as adults do with additional such as vomiting and restlessness. Even though every child is at risk of getting acute bronchitis, there are those at more high risk of the infection.
Children at a high risk of acute bronchitis are those with:
- Enlarged adenoids and tonsils
- Chronic sinusitis
- Exposed to passive or secondhand smoking
Acute Bronchitis Diagnosis
Acute bronchitis has symptoms similar to other lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, and emphysema. It is more why you should immediately visit your doctor when you experience acute bronchitis symptoms.
Your doctor may then run some lung examinations to confirm your condition and rule out other lung diseases.
The following are some of the diagnosing procedures your doctor may choose to use:
Medical History. Your doctor might ask you how you are feeling and when you started feeling that way. At this initial diagnosing procedure, you specify your symptoms and how long you have had such symptoms.
Your doctor would also want to know whether anyone in the family or workplace has the same symptoms. Such are the details that can help your doctor make the right diagnosis.
Physical Examination. Chest examination is a standard diagnosis for most lung diseases. A stethoscope is an instrument your doctor may use to listen keenly to your breathing. It is to find out whether you are wheezing or having shortness of breath.
X-Ray. A chest x-ray is another standard lung diagnosis procedure. It is an imaging type of diagnosis that can reveal the condition of your lungs through images. Your doctor can know what kind of infection you have through a chest x-ray. The x-ray can help your doctor identify whether you have acute bronchitis or pneumonia infection.
Blood Test. Your doctor may require blood testing to substantiate whether you have bacterial acute bronchitis or viral for effective treatment.
Acute Bronchitis Treatment
You can be surprised to know that your doctor may send you back home without any drug prescription after a visit. Unless you have severe symptoms, you may not require any medications. Your condition should clear within a week to ten days after its onset with a healthy immune system.
For severe symptoms such as high fever, headache, acute coughing, shortness of breath, your doctor may prescribe the following medications:
- Pain medications
- Cough suppressants
How to Treat Acute Bronchitis Naturally
Even though acute bronchitis is self-healing and there is nothing much your doctor can do about it, does it mean that you ignore it and let it be? There is a lot you can do to ease your symptoms as your body deals with the virus.
The following are some natural treatment you might consider using:
Honey. The use of honey is a natural remedy for reducing or suppressing coughs. It is an age-old cough remedy that surpasses time.
You can take about 10 ml of honey before bedtime to ease night coughing. You can also while-away your day by sipping hot honey tea or lemon tea with honey. However, honey is not suitable for infants below one-year-old.
Cayenne Pepper. Kick your cold and cough with hot chili pepper. Cayenne pepper is effective in thinning out phlegm and hence easing congestions.
You can spike your tea with a pinch of cayenne pepper as a remedy for your cough in acute bronchitis. The cayenne pepper does not only expectorate your thick phlegm but also boosts your blood flow.
Essential Oils. Essential oils date back many centuries for different uses in beauty and health. Some researchers have confirmed that some essential oils have natural qualities to ease your cough and other health conditions.
You can use the essential oils in aromatherapy or diffusing into your surrounding air. Essential oils are not for ingesting. You should be cautious when using essential oils as a remedy for easing acute bronchitis symptoms. Most of such oil products in the market are not standardized or regulated and can be potent.
Some of the useful essential oils for coughing and other respiratory issues are:
Eucalyptus - You may not know that the smell you get from most of the chest rub products is from eucalyptus essential oil.
Such products contain cineole or eucalyptol, a compound from eucalyptus useful for decongesting heavy mucus, reducing inflammation, and attacking disease-causing bacteria. Eucalyptus essential oil can also help calm a cough.
For the inhalation method, drop some eucalyptus essential oil in steamy boiled water, cover yourself over the steam and inhale it deeply.
For the rubbing method, mix a few drops of the essential oil with any of your carrier oil rub your chest and throat with the mixture. It is useful in decongesting your bronchial tubes and for cough relief.
Oregano - Oregano essential oil contains an antimicrobial agent called carvacrol. The agent is useful in fighting off bacterial germs in acute bronchitis.
You can inhale the oil by dropping some in steaming boiled water. Inhale the steam deeply to decongest and ease your coughing while dealing with the acute bronchitis germs.
Tea Tree - Tea tree essential oil is an old remedy among various cultures and traditions in treating colds and coughs. The compounds in tea tree oil are useful in inhibiting or reducing the effect of viral germs on your respiratory condition. Please drop some of the tea tree essential oil into boiling water and inhale the steam.
Mullein - Mullein is a natural expectorant herb. It is an old natural remedy for various respiratory conditions and, in this case, acute bronchitis. This herb is useful in loosening or thinning your thick phlegm for effective and fast elimination.
Ivy - Ivy herbal extract from dry leaves is useful in dealing with acute bronchitis. It is an expectorant herb that helps to extract mucus from the bronchial tubes. The results of one study reported that 93.3 percent of cases on tests improved after using ivy extracts.
The German Commission E (Government body on drugs and medical devices) approved ivy for bronchitis.
Thyme - Thyme is a useful herb for various respiratory issues. It is an antibacterial that fights bacterial germs that aggravate acute bronchitis. It is also an expectorant, which helps to expel or produce out mucus from your bronchial tubes.
Peppermint - Peppermint has menthol, which is useful as an expectorant, decongest, and mucus thinner. This herb can help you reduce your coughing by loosening the thick phlegm in the airways.
Lobelia - Lobelia is an herb often used for respiratory diseases such as bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, etc. The herb is useful in thinning mucus for ease of breathing, expectorating or removing phlegm, and easing cough.
Moringa Oleifera - Moringa is a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals. It is essential for immune-boosting even when you are not sick to help your body fight infections. Cold and flu can exacerbate to become acute bronchitis and hence the need to keep immunity healthy to prevent acute bronchitis.
One study concluded that using moringa seeds extracts can improve respiratory functions by working on the symptoms. The study finding was that the research subjects did not have any side effects after using this product for the entire research period.
You can boost your immune system by adding supplements to help your body recover from acute bronchitis quickly. Some of these supplements are:
Vitamin C - Taking vitamin C daily when you have acute bronchitis can help you recover quickly than usual. Vitamin C is useful in reducing bronchial tube inflammation and hence the healing process.
Vitamin D - Vitamin D can help you boost your immunity to fight off acute bronchitis symptoms effectively. This vitamin can also prevent extended coughing after your immune system resolves other symptoms.
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) - NAC is an improved amino acid supplement that can help loosen the thick mucus in your bronchial tubes for easy expectoration and treating your cough. 600mg per day is sufficient for the treatment of coughing in acute bronchitis.
For a severe case of difficulty breathing (dyspnea) due to excess mucus in the bronchial tubes, 1200 mg per day should be sufficient.
How to Prevent Acute Bronchitis
You can prevent acute bronchitis by doing the following:
- Stay healthy by eating foods that can boost your immunity. A strong immune system is your protector against infections such as cold and flu.
- Using soap and water, wash your hands frequently to prevent infecting yourself from germs you might pick when touching surfaces.
- Having a mask on that covers your nose and mouth whenever you are in a crowded place can protect you against germs. You never know who might be contagious of the disease.
- Use a hands sanitizer whenever you are out and about, and when you can't access water and soap.
- Stop smoking if you have the habit of smoking or avoid being near a person who is smoking. Protect yourself from inhaling airborne pollutants by wearing protective gear when exposing yourself to such.
Acute Bronchitis Complications
Acute bronchitis can worsen and progress to other severe lung diseases such as pneumonia or chronic bronchitis due to a weak immune system.
If your symptoms continue beyond three weeks, it is time to revisit your doctor. You might need some treatments to prevent some life-long or life-threatening lung diseases.
Acute Bronchitis Key Points to Remember
Acute bronchitis is a common respiratory infection prevalent in the cold season, especially during winter.
The infection attacks suddenly and can be severe at its onset. It can happen through viral or bacterial infection and other breathable irritants or air pollution.
Acute bronchitis can be an extension of a common cold or flu. It is essential to supplement your health when you have a common cold or flu to prevent it from exacerbating.
Acute bronchitis is an infection that can alter your lifestyle. The sudden severe symptoms can interfere with your daily activities, especially since the condition is contagious.
Your healthcare provider might not help much since acute bronchitis is not treatable with antibiotics. Probably what you might get is some expectorant to help you coughing remove the buildup mucus.
Revert to the age-old remedies such as taking chicken broth, sipping warm water, or any other natural remedies, as we mentioned above, for ease of symptoms.
Taking care of yourself to prevent acute bronchitis infection is your most essential responsibility.
Build your immune system before, during, and after an acute bronchitis infection by eating a healthy diet and supporting your health with the right supplements.
You can talk to our Natural Health Practitioner and Master Herbalist, Yvonne Dollard Perc, for more guidelines on the proper use of supplements and other natural remedies and various treatments.
You do not want to miss her FREE virtue consultation. Call now on 250.468.7685 to reserve your place in her diary.
With her vast knowledge and experience of more than three decades in natural treatment, you can depend on her advice without any doubt. Please use our free consultation by clicking Ask Yvonne and following the simple laid procedure, which has excellent results.
What is your best home remedy for the common cold and flu? Would you like to share it in our comment section for others to read? Tell us more about how it worked for you.
Take care of yourself and remain healthy for the next coming winter season. Boost your immune system to attack the acute bronchitis germs before they attack you.
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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.