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By Sasha de Beausset Aparicio, MSc

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What Is Bronchitis

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchi, which in response causes a high level of mucus being produced in the same area. The bronchi are covered by small chilies which keep the impurities and other foreign elements from reaching the lungs by producing mucus. It is a fairly common disease that affects a lot of people of all ages around the world. It is a condition that can cause severe complications if not treated properly.


The causes of Bronchitis depend on the type: acute bronchitis caused mainly by previous pulmonary infections (even viruses) that affect the respiratory tract. Chronic bronchitis is mainly caused by long time exposure to toxic work environments, especially in heavy or chemical industry, where workers are exposed to toxic fumes for repeated long periods .A long record of acute bronchitis may also cause it, or even asthma in some cases. The most common cause for both is smoking, which directly affects the chili cells that produce mucus. Studies have showed that also the natural climate can contribute to the development of any type of bronchitis by high levels of humidity present in the atmosphere which also raise the risk of bacterial infections.

Often the illness is a consequence of a previous infection or virus, as the common cold or influenza, mostly respiratory viruses and anaerobic bacteria. One cause can be the reason for more than one symptom, as the presence of one can be instrumental for the appearance of others. Smoking, for example, besides the fact that it influences the mucus producing cells, it also weakens the body by stressing the respiratory system and reducing the levels of the oxygen absorbed by the organism. So in some cases bronchitis might not be the culprit, but a consequence of a larger illness. Anaerobic bacteria like the Streptococcus pneumonia can be the cause of the bronchitis, which can lead to a much more severe illness if untreated, mostly pneumonia. So the local biologic exposures are a risk factor very important in determining the causes of bronchitis.

Signs & Symptoms

The most common symptom is coughing and elimination of sputum, mostly due to the high level of mucus produced. The two types of bronchitis have almost similar symptoms, differences can be seen in the color of the sputum that has a green, white, or yellow color for chronic. Another difference can be seen in the duration of the infection, acute bronchitis does not last longer than six weeks, or as in the case of the chronic infection the symptoms can be recurrent on durations longer than three years.

Other symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, and slight fever are common for both types of illness. In some cases the infection or inflammation can spread to other areas of the body, for example in the lower respiratory system or even towards the ear. These complications are often caused by bacterial infections, but untreated other illnesses may cause it.

Diagnosis Bronchitis

Because of the wide variety of symptoms that are shared with other diseases, bronchitis is diagnosed through elimination. The most common practice is to measure the volume of the lungs using a pulmonary function test, which later can be followed by an x-ray to determine the size of the area affected by the inflammation. The process can be difficult if other diseases similar are present, especially in the case where both types of bronchitis are developed. A more uncommon practice for the diagnosis is the analysis of the sputum.

Treatment for Bronchitis

In most cases the treatment is not so different from treating a common cold, as most of the bronchitis cases evolve towards healing, but exceptions can occur. Complications can appear if the carrier uses antibiotics, which can lead to the development of an antibiotic resistant bronchitis, as it is not affected by that type of treatment that is more suited for bacterial infections, but in rare situations antibiotics can be used if the illness leads to another problem that can be solved like this, but only a medic can diagnose this types of issues and only then can recommend the proper medication. A high level of liquids and long term rest can definitely improve the chances of the body recovering faster.

The most common practice is to avoid high levels of humidity, which can influence the development of bacteria. Another risk factor worth avoiding is air pollution, which depending on individual, can contribute with a large variety of influences all leading to bronchitis. Toxic environments are also highly influential, especially at stressing the respiratory system which can lead to chronic bronchitis. Avoiding smoking during the illness or quitting smoking can drastically improve the chances of facing this issue. Also low temperature variations are very important in treating bronchitis, it is recommended that patients do not drink or eat cold food at any state.

All the treatments have a more symptomatic approach, but the most effective treatment is after the development state of the illness is determined through a thorough investigation by a medic. Anti-inflammatory medication can be prescribed, depending if the patient has difficulty breathing or excess coughing.

Preemptive treatment can be highly effective if you are exposed to the previous mentioned risk factors, especially if the risk environment is at work. Safety measures as mask and proper ventilation systems are necessary. Also, this illness is contagious or can be accelerated by other contagious exposures, so avoid contact with other ill persons, especially if the illness is of the respiratory tract. Avoid exposure to polluted areas to limit the body stress factor, which can improve your immune system.

Hygiene is the most important when concerning bacterial exposure, especially inside the mouth as it is one of the most bacteria rich areas in the human body and close to the bronchi. Also people with a weak immunity system or allergies are advised to avoid triggering them, as any complications of an allergy can quickly lead to bronchitis. Vaccination is a very efficient preemptive method, not only of people that have allergies.