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Acute and chronic bronchitis

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the airways that carry air to your lungs.


In bronchitis the bronchial tube of the respiratory tract is infected by a virus or bacteria. There are two forms: acute and chronic bronchitis. It is a very frequent disease: each year 550 thousand people get acute bronchitis.

COPD (stands for “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease”) is the collective noun for (chronic) bronchitis and emphysema. COPD is an incurable lung disease. There is a permanent contraction of the small respiratory tract, resulting in shortness of breath and coughing. The patient is in fact constantly anxious, unlike asthma which is caracterized by “good” periods without many symptoms.

What helps with a bronchitis? What can you do yourself...

Acute bronchitis usually heals by itself after about two weeks. You may still suffer from a cough, however, and some lingering fatigue. The road to recovery is about one single principle: get your  resistance back up. This can be done with the following measures:

  • Drink sufficient water; a minimum of 2 litres a day;
  • Get enough sleep. Go to bed really early for a couple of days in a row;
  • Do not smoke;
  • Eat food rich in many vitamins and minerals;
  • Prevent irritation of your lungs; do not expose them to smoke or detergents;
  • Steaming may loosen the residual mucus in the lungs and alleviate the complaints.

- Krista Halton, Flu Coach

Where are your bronchi?

When breathing, the air goes into the lungs through the wind pipe. In the lungs are small tubes that branch out; those are the bronchi. They go from the wind pipe to the pulmonary alveoli.

The function of the alveoli is to ensure that the oxygen from the air is absorbed in the body. The inside of the bronchi is lined with mucous membrane. If the bronchi are infected, the mucous membrane starts to produce more mucus.

Causes of bronchitis

Bronchitis may have several causes. With a bronchitis, the branchi of the respiratory tract are infected. The main reasons are:

  • Acute bronchitis as aftermath of a viral infection, such as a neglected flu or heavy cold. The infection disapear after a while.
  • A bacterial infection, for instance a tonsillitis, sometimes leads to an acute bronchitis as well.

But most cases of bronchitis start with breathing in of harmful vapours, originating from factory chimneys or car exhaust.

The main cause of COPD is smoking.

Bronchitis: symptoms

Both acute and chronic bronchitis are recognizable through several symptoms:

  • a persistent cough producing yellow or green mucus
  • rattling breathing (which develops when the air flows past the mucus)
  • chest pain 
  • sometimes anxiety
  • often fever

Chronic bronchitis can also lead to a weight change.

Chronic bronchitis

A long lasting bronchitis may become chronic. In those cases, the bronchi are constantly infected and irritated. The lung function gradually deteriorates and, in worst case scenarios, emphysema sets in and causes damages to the pulmonary alveoli. 

The main cause of chronic bronchitis is smoking. The mucous membrane becomes more productive  than normal, leading to feelings of anxiety and extensive coughing.

Symptoms chronic bronchitis

  • coughing fits, especially in the morning, with temperature changes or during physical effort
  • coughing up little, but tough mucus
  • anxiety

What is the difference between acute and chronic bronchitis?

There is a few differences between acute and chronic bronchitis.

First, acute bronchitis will be gone within two weeks. With chronic bronchitis, the infection is permanent.Sometimes you may notice an improvement, but the cough always comes back.

The second difference is the cause. With acute bronchitis, the infection of the bronchi develops after a cold or the flu. Chronic bronchitis may be caused by a virus or bacteria, but is mostly caused by smoking.

Can a “normal” bronchitis become chronic?

Yes. A long lasting bronchitis may become chronic. The lung function further deteriorates and in the worst case scenario, part of the pulmonary alveoli is ruined. This is called emphysema.

Is bronchitis contagious?

Yes and no. It depends on the cause of the bronchitis. If the bronchitis is caused by air pollution, inhaled smoke or an allergy, it is not contagious; the bronchi were not infected by bacteria or virus.

With bronchitis caused by a viral or bacterial infection, there is a chance of passing it on to others, through coughing. 

Someone with a good immune system will not feel any discomfort nor become infected. However, people with diminished resistance may become infected.

Bronchitis treatment

Chronic bronchitis or COPD is a serious disease which requires medical supervision. Consult a doctor, especially if you are experiencing chest pain, if breathing or coughing is very painful or if you cough up blood or rust-coloured mucus. During your doctor consultation, you can choose a natural treatment if you wish. The extra mucus is often a problem.

A physiotherapist can teach you a breathing technique to get rid of superfluous mucus. This technique is called Forced Expiration Technique (F.E.T.). In a number of cases, tapping is necessary: by tapping on the chest, the mucus can be coughed up more easily.

A doctor can assess if recovery necessitates an antibiotic treatment. In case of anxiety, your doctor may prescribe bronchodilators.

The most important tips with bronchitis are:

  • Quit smoking first and foremost
  • A humid living environment may worsen the ailment.
  • Cool and humid environments affect resistance.
  • Wear warm clothing.
  • To go outside and take in fresh air regularly, is important.
  • Avoid polluted areas.
  • Also, avoid humid living or working environments.
  • Pay attention to your posture, especially if you work sitting down. Being huddled impedes breathing and crushes the lungs. Sit up straight, shoulders back.
  • Consult your doctor to find out if a sauna may be beneficial.  A steam bath can also alleviate symptoms.

Do children have bronchitis more often?

Children younger than three, just like the elderly (65+) have greater chance of getting bronchitis. Infants are sometimes hospitalized, but this seldom happens after the age of 1.

If your child often suffers from anxiety because of bronchitis, support his back with pillows to allow him to sit up straight in bed.

If your child suffer from severe anxiety or if the skin around the lips turns blue, notify a doctor immediately. It may be bronchitis or asthma; for a non-professional these are difficult to differentiate.

What should you do with bronchitis in combination with a fever?

Bronchitis may be accompanied by fever. Your resistance is lowered by the infected bronchi, making you more susceptible to viruses, bacteria and infections. Fever by itself – apart from being annoying – is not dangerous. Make sure that you drink enough water. If you suffer from a persistent fever accompanied with coughing, you should consult a doctor. You may have pneumonia.

What is the difference between asthma and chronic bronchitis?

In both asthma and bronchitis, the bronchi are infected. However, there are differences.

With asthma the anxiety complaints are central, with chronic bronchitis, it is the coughing and mucus.

Asthma often occurs in young people and young adults, chronic bronchitis usually develops around the age of forty.

With chronic bronchitis patients, the respiratory tract was damaged, preventing normal lung function.

With asthma the lung function may also be decreased, but it will return to normal spontaneously or after inhaling bronchodilators.

Nutrition advice for Bronchitis (COPD)

  • Adopt a light, wholesome diet, full of vitamins and minerals, preferably organic.
  • Avoid heavy, protein-rich foods with much meat and meat products.
  • Be sure to take in foods rich in pro-vitamin A, such as fruit, green leaf vegetables, carrots and other orange vegetables.
  • Vitamin C is also important (citrus fruit, kiwis, vegetables and potatoes)
  • Salads containing horseradish, watercress or garden cress. 
  • Herbal tea with goldenrod, juniper, birch leaf, parsley, stinging nettles, rose hips, sage and thyme
  • Consume milk products in moderation, because they stimulate mucus production. 
  • Sour milk products are allowed, such as buttermilk, yogurt and cottage cheese. 
  • Avoid drinks that are piping hot and do not eat heavy meals late in the evening.

When to see your doctor?

People with COPD may get very sick because of a virus infection of the respiratory tract, such as the flu. Because of an infection, the pre-existing condition of the respiratory tract may get worse2.

Self-medication is not suitable for (Chronic) bronchitis or COPD. Consult a doctor.

What do you think?

Have you found what you read useful? If so, I would love if you would leave your comment below. Thanks! Krista your A.Vogel Flu Coach

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