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Bronchitis
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Bronchitis

From MayoClinic.com

Diseases & Conditions A-Z

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ASTHMA & RESPIRATORY SYSTEM
Respiratory System

Causes

The same viruses that cause colds often cause acute bronchitis. But you can also develop noninfectious bronchitis from exposure to your own or someone else's cigarette smoke and even from pollutants such as household cleaners and smog.

Bronchitis can also occur when acids from your stomach consistently back up into your food pipe, a condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. And workers exposed to certain dusts or fumes may develop occupational bronchitis, an acute disease that generally clears up when exposure to the irritant stops.

Sometimes inflammation and thickening of the lining of your bronchial tubes become permanent — a condition known as chronic bronchitis. Signs and symptoms include shortness of breath and a continuous cough that produces large amounts of mucus. You're generally considered to have chronic bronchitis if you cough most days for at least three months a year in two consecutive years. Often, however, smokers with chronic bronchitis cough almost every day, even if it's just to "clear their throats" in the morning.

Unlike acute bronchitis, chronic bronchitis is an ongoing, serious disease. Smoking is the major cause, but air pollution and dust or toxic gases in the environment or workplace also can contribute to the condition.

In emphysema, chronic inflammation damages the walls of the alveoli — tiny air spaces in your lungs.

Risk factors

The greatest risk factor for both acute and chronic bronchitis is smoking, either if you smoke yourself or live with someone who does. Children whose parents or siblings smoke are especially susceptible to bronchitis, as well as to asthma, pneumonia, colds and ear infections (otitis media).

Other factors that increase your risk of bronchitis include:

  • Low resistance. This may result from another acute illness, such as a cold, or from a chronic condition that compromises your immune system.

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease. Stomach acids that persistently back up into your esophagus are likely to cause a chronic cough, usually through a reflex mechanism.

  • Exposure to certain irritants on the job. You run the risk of developing occupational bronchitis if you work around certain lung irritants, such as cotton, flax or hemp dust, or are exposed to chemical fumes from ammonia, strong acids, chlorine, hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide or bromine. Occupational bronchitis usually clears up when you're no longer exposed to these substances.

When to seek medical advice

Most cases of bronchitis clear on their own in a few days, especially if you rest, drink plenty of fluids, and keep the air in your home warm and moist. But if you have a fever higher than 39 C, you're breathless, or you cough up bloody or yellow or green mucus, see your doctor. You may have pneumonia. And if you have a cough that lasts six weeks or more, be sure to seek medical care. The inflammation from a chronic infection can lead to asthma in some people.

Also see your doctor if you have chronic lung or heart problems, including asthma, emphysema or congestive heart failure, and think you may have developed a case of bronchitis. These conditions put you at greater risk of developing complications from bronchial infections.

If you have repeated bouts of bronchitis, tell your doctor. You may have chronic bronchitis, or you may live or work in an environment that continually irritates your airways. In some cases, you may have GERD or chronic sinusitis. If so, your doctor may be able to pinpoint the cause of your problem and suggest further testing and lifestyle changes that can help.

 

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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