What Can Cause Bronchitis?
The causes of bronchitis vary depending on whether you have acute bronchitis or chronic bronchitis. Both conditions occur when the bronchi, or the air tubes that connect the trachea to the lungs, become inflamed, but acute bronchitis usually begins to improve within a few days, although a cough can linger for weeks, while chronic bronchitis is an ongoing or reoccurring condition. Symptoms of both acute and chronic bronchitis include a cough, a feeling of tightness in the chest, and shortness of breath. The cough may be either productive or unproductive. A productive cough will usually produce yellow or green mucus.
Almost 95 percent of cases of acute bronchitis are caused by viruses that enter the respiratory system, attack the bronchi, and induce an infection. The cold virus is the most common viral cause of acute bronchitis, but influenza A and B and the respiratory syncytial virus can also lead to bronchitis. Bacteria cause acute bronchitis far less often than previously believed, but the mycoplasma, pneumococcus, klebsiella, haemophilus bacteria can all lead to acute bronchitis. Exposure to certain environmental irritants, such as smoke or solvents can also trigger acute bronchitis. Some people who suffer from gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD) develop acute bronchitis when they aspirate stomach acids into their lungs.
Chronic bronchitis is technically defined as bronchitis that last for more than three months. Bronchial inflammation often becomes permanent in people with chronic bronchitis. Smoking is the most common cause of chronic bronchitis. Long-term exposure to certain substances like air pollution, dust, and chemical fumes can also lead to chronic bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis is considered a much more serious illness than acute bronchitis. When chronic bronchitis appears in conjunction with emphysema, a patient is considered to have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
When to Go to the Doctor
You can treat the symptoms of bronchitis with over-the-counter cold and flu medications, and most cases of acute bronchitis will resolve themselves without medical intervention, but it's time to see the doctor if you have been coughing or wheezing for more than two weeks, particularly if your symptoms get worse when you lie down. If your cough produces a bad tasting fluid, it may be a sign that you have GERD, and you should see a physician. In addition, see a doctor if your cough produces blood or you have a high fever.