Bronchitis is inflammation of the lining of the airways in the lungs. The airways, or bronchial tubes, are lined with a mucous membrane. The term bronchitis is just descriptive of the location of the inflammation; it does not describe the cause of the inflammation. Bronchitis can be acute, chronic or related to asthma (asthmatic bronchitis).
Acute bronchitis is typically caused by an infection. Most of the time, the infectious agent is a respiratory virus. However, bacteria infecting the respiratory system can sometimes cause acute bronchitis as well. Acute bronchitis usually lasts for a week to a couple of weeks.
Chronic bronchitis lasts much longer than acute bronchitis. In order to be diagnosed with chronic bronchitis, you have to have a cough that lasts for three months out of the year for at least two years in a row. The most common cause of chronic bronchitis is lung damage from cigarette smoke, but other things like toxic air pollutants can also be responsible. A person with chronic bronchitis who gets a viral respiratory infection may have chronic bronchitis and acute bronchitis at the same time; in fact, smokers are much more prone to developing respiratory infections. Chronic bronchitis may eventually develop into chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.
Asthmatic bronchitis is inflammation in the airways due to asthma. Some people with asthma may have some level of lung inflammation even when they are not experiencing the acute symptoms of an asthma attack.
The basic symptoms of bronchitis include coughing, mucus production, chest pain or discomfort, fever or chills and fatigue. The fever involved in bronchitis is typically not high; a really high fever is more indicative of pneumonia or a different kind of infection.
Acute bronchitis that is caused by a respiratory infection usually does not require medical treatment. However, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter cough medications if you are having trouble sleeping due to your cough. Antibiotics are not usually prescribed for bronchitis unless your doctor thinks that you have a bacterial infection.