Bronchial disease

Specialty of Internal medicine

What is bronchial disease?

Bronchial disease, also known as bronchitis, is inflammation of the bronchi, which are the main airways of the lungs. It causes cough with mucous and breathing difficulties. Symptoms may also include panting, chest tightness or mild fever. There are two types: acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis. Patients with bronchitis frequently produce cough with mucous. The mucous is produced by the inner layer of the bronchi and has a characteristically sticky quality.

  • Acute bronchitis: may be caused by lung irritants or infections. The most common cause of acute bronchitis is the same viruses responsible for flu and colds. Acute bronchitis can be transmitted via physical contact, e.g. via dirty hands. Acute bronchitis lasts for up to 10 days; however, the cough may persist for many weeks after the infection has disappeared.
  • Chronic bronchitis: this disease is classified within the disease category chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Inflamed bronchi produce large amounts of mucous, leading to breathing difficulties and a lot of coughing. One of the most common causes is smoking. Other possible causes are breathing air with high concentrations of pollutants, smoke or dust over an extended period of time.

Prognosis

Acute bronchitis: the disease usually disappears after 7-10 days; however, some symptoms, such as coughing, may persist for 2-3 weeks. If the symptoms have not subsided at the end of these periods, the specialist may consider the use of medications or antibiotics, given that bronchitis may develop into pneumonia.

Chronic bronchitis: there is no known cure. Giving up smoking is a key preventive measure. In more-complicated cases, the specialist may decide that the patient requires oxygen therapy in their everyday life.

Symptoms of bronchial disease

Symptoms vary by the type of bronchitis, acute or chronic.

  • Acute bronchitis: throat pain, exhaustion or fatigue, fever, pain all over the body, blocked and runny nose, vomiting, diarrhoea, cough, green or yellow mucus, wheezing, chest pain or tightness, and shortness of breath especially during physical activity.
  • Chronic bronchitis: The cardinal symptom of chronic bronchitis is persistent coughing that does not disappear until many months have elapsed. The mucus is accompanied by cough, wheezing and difficulty obtaining air.

Testing for bronchial disease

The most common test is using a stethoscope to listen to the patient’s lungs while breathing. However, in the first few days, it is difficult to differentiate bronchitis from a common cold. Other tests may be performed for a more precise diagnosis:

  • Chest X-ray: the X-ray can determine which specific disease the patient has, pneumonia or another disease associated with coughing.
  • Sputum culture: this test can detect the presence of bacteria in the sputum. This test is able to detect diseases that can be treated with antibiotics.
  • Pulmonary function testing: the patient blows into a device called a spirometer, which measures how much air their lungs can hold and how fast they can obtain oxygen. This test can detect signs of emphysema or asthma.

Causes of bronchial disease

Causes vary by the type of bronchitis, acute or chronic.

  • Acute bronchitis: one of the causes of acute bronchitis is infections and lung irritants; in other words, the viruses that cause colds and the flu constitute one of the most common causes of acute bronchitis. There is another type of substance that can cause lung irritation culminating in acute bronchitis. Exposure to high concentrations of dust or gases, for example after an explosion or large fire, may lead to the development of acute bronchitis.
  • Chronic bronchitis: The fundamental cause of chronic bronchitis is smoking. The action of inhaling smoke irritates the lungs and leads to the production of large amounts of mucous. Chronic bronchitis may also occur after breathing in other substances such as chemical vapours and dust.

Can it be prevented?

The best way to prevent bronchitis is to not smoke, whether this means stopping smoking or never starting to smoke. The more smoke is inhaled, the more diseased the lungs will become. Stopping smoking improves breathing and reduces coughing. It also lowers the risk of lung cancer.

Another measure is to avoid exposure to other substances that may be harmful, such as aerosol-based products like hairspray, spray deodorant and spray paint. Similarly, you should avoid inhaling dust or chemical vapours. One way of protecting the lungs is to use a facemask covering the mouth and nose when you use any chemical substance that gives off strong vapours, e.g. varnish or paint.

Treatment

The primary objectives of specialists are to provide symptom relief and to make breathing easier. If you have acute bronchitis, the physician may advise you to rest, to hydrate sufficiently and to take aspirin or acetaminophen to reduce the fever.

Viruses are the predominant cause of acute bronchitis and as such antibiotics are useless. You may be prescribed antibiotics however if the specialist believes that you have a bacterial infection.

Use of a humidifier will make the mucous more liquid and may alleviate wheezing and lack of air. Some patients may need an inhaled medicine, which is administered via an inhaler so that the medicine can reach the lungs.

Which specialist treats it?

Bronchial disease is treated by a specialist in pneumology, which is the study and treatment of diseases of the lungs, bronchi and pleura. Pulmonologists and respiratory sepcialists can treat bronchitis, respiratory impairment, asthma, emphysema, and more serious diseases.

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