Bronchitis is an infection of the bronchial tubes, the pathways leading from the mouth and nose to the lungs. This infection causes a constriction of the airways, leading to coughing spells which may or may not be accompanied by phlegm. Acute bronchitis is usually the result of a virus or bacterial infection, and usually lasts anywhere from one week to three weeks. Chronic bronchitis lasts much longer, affecting the patient at least three months of a year for two consecutive years or more. People exposed to certain environmental factors, such as air pollution or smoking are at a much higher risk of developing chronic bronchitis.
In many cases, acute bronchitis resolves itself without medical intervention. Since most cases of acute bronchitis are viral, antibiotics will generally not help speed the healing process. Instead, doctors typically recommend rest, taking in plenty of fluids, and avoiding smoke and other lung irritants. Some patients may find excessive coughing to be disruptive, in which case their doctor may prescribe a cough suppressant or a bronchodilator.
Chronic bronchitis may be a bit trickier to treat. This chronic condition leaves patients at a greater risk of developing further and more serious lung problems. Persistent bronchitis is one half of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), along with emphysema. COPD is irreversible and the disease is terminal. Chronic bronchitis also leaves patients at a greater risk of developing pneumonia. Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done to treat chronic bronchitis at this point in time. Lifestyle changes may help a patient prevent the disease from progressing. Unless your doctor recommends not doing so, it is wise to receive the annual flu vaccine. Chronic bronchitis patients may also benefit from receiving a pneumonia vaccine, which in most cases does not need to be repeated until the patient reaches age 65. Preventing these diseases is the best way for a person with compromised lung health to prevent complications of influenza and/or pneumonia. Overweight patients may notice a decrease in severity of symptoms with weight loss, and smokers will undoubtedly notice many health benefits if they quit smoking.
Over-the-counter cough suppressants are unlikely to be effective for easing symptoms of chronic bronchitis. However, if you notice an increase in productive coughing (more mucus), there may be an easily treatable secondary infection. Your doctor may be able to diagnose and provide treatment options for such secondary infections. Furthermore, your doctor is likely to be up-to-date on current and experimental treatments. If you have been diagnosed with chronic bronchitis, it is important to stay in contact and schedule regular appointments with your doctor to ensure you are receiving the best treatment for your individual case.