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Acute Bronchitis

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the airways that carry air to your lungs. It causes a cough that often brings up mucus. It can also cause shortness of breath, wheezing, a low fever, and chest tightness. There are two main types of bronchitis: acute and chronic.

Most cases of acute bronchitis get better within several days. But your cough can last for several weeks after the infection is gone.

The same viruses that cause colds and the flu often cause acute bronchitis. These viruses spread through the air when people cough, or though physical contact (for example, on unwashed hands). Being exposed to tobacco smoke, air pollution, dusts, vapors, and fumes can also cause acute bronchitis. Less often, bacteria can also cause acute bronchitis.

To diagnose acute bronchitis, your health care provider will ask about your symptoms and listen to your breathing. You may also have other tests.

Treatments include rest, fluids, and aspirin (for adults) or acetaminophen to treat fever. A humidifier or steam can also help. You may need inhaled medicine to open your airways if you are wheezing. Antibiotics won't help if the cause is viral. You may get antibiotics if the cause is bacterial.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Chronic Bronchitis

What is chronic bronchitis?

Chronic bronchitis is a type of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). COPD is a group of lung diseases that make it hard to breathe and get worse over time. The other main type of COPD is emphysema. Most people with COPD have both emphysema and chronic bronchitis, but how severe each type is can be different from person to person.

Chronic bronchitis is inflammation (swelling) and irritation of the bronchial tubes. These tubes are the airways that carry air to and from the air sacs in your lungs. The irritation of the tubes causes mucus to build up. This mucus and the swelling of the tubes make it harder for your lungs to move oxygen in and carbon dioxide out of your body.

What causes chronic bronchitis?

The cause of chronic bronchitis is usually long-term exposure to irritants that damage your lungs and airways. In the United States, cigarette smoke is the main cause. Pipe, cigar, and other types of tobacco smoke can also cause chronic bronchitis, especially if you inhale them.

Exposure to other inhaled irritants can contribute to chronic bronchitis. These include secondhand smoke, air pollution, and chemical fumes or dusts from the environment or workplace.

Rarely, a genetic condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency can play a role in causing chronic bronchitis.

Who is at risk for chronic bronchitis?

The risk factors for chronic bronchitis include

  • Smoking. This the main risk factor. Up to 75% of people who have chronic bronchitis smoke or used to smoke.
  • Long-term exposure to other lung irritants, such as secondhand smoke, air pollution, and chemical fumes and dusts from the environment or workplace.
  • Age. Most people who have chronic bronchitis are at least 40 years old when their symptoms begin.
  • Genetics. This includes alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, which is a genetic condition. Also, smokers who get chronic bronchitis are more likely to get it if they have a family history of COPD.
What are the symptoms of chronic bronchitis?

At first, you may have no symptoms or only mild symptoms. As the disease gets worse, your symptoms usually become more severe. They can include

  • Frequent coughing or a cough that produces a lot mucus
  • Wheezing
  • A whistling or squeaky sound when you breathe
  • Shortness of breath, especially with physical activity
  • Tightness in your chest

Some people with chronic bronchitis get frequent respiratory infections such as colds and the flu. In severe cases, chronic bronchitis can cause weight loss, weakness in your lower muscles, and swelling in your ankles, feet, or legs.

How is chronic bronchitis diagnosed?

To make a diagnosis, your health care provider

  • Will ask about your medical history and family history
  • Will ask about your symptoms
  • May do lab tests, such as lung function tests, a chest x-ray or CT scan, and blood tests
What are the treatments for chronic bronchitis?

There is no cure for chronic bronchitis. However, treatments can help with symptoms, slow the progress of the disease, and improve your ability to stay active. There are also treatments to prevent or treat complications of the disease. Treatments include

  • Lifestyle changes, such as
    • Quitting smoking if you are a smoker. This is the most important step you can take to treat chronic bronchitis.
    • Avoiding secondhand smoke and places where you might breathe in other lung irritants
    • Ask your health care provider for an eating plan that will meet your nutritional needs. Also ask about how much physical activity you can do. Physical activity can strengthen the muscles that help you breathe and improve your overall wellness.
  • Medicines, such as
    • Bronchodilators, which relax the muscles around your airways. This helps open your airways and makes breathing easier. Most bronchodilators are taken through an inhaler. In more severe cases, the inhaler may also contain steroids to reduce inflammation.
    • Vaccines for the flu and pneumococcal pneumonia, since people with chronic bronchitis are at higher risk for serious problems from these diseases.
    • Antibiotics if you get a bacterial or viral lung infection
  • Oxygen therapy, if you have severe chronic bronchitis and low levels of oxygen in your blood. Oxygen therapy can help you breathe better. You may need extra oxygen all the time or only at certain times.
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation, which is a program that helps improve the well-being of people who have chronic breathing problems. It may include
    • An exercise program
    • Disease management training
    • Nutritional counseling
    • Psychological counseling
  • A lung transplant, as a last resort for people who have severe symptoms that have not gotten better with medicines

If you have chronic bronchitis, it's important to know when and where to get help for your symptoms. You should get emergency care if you have severe symptoms, such as trouble catching your breath or talking. Call your health care provider if your symptoms are getting worse or if you have signs of an infection, such as a fever.

Can chronic bronchitis be prevented?

Since smoking causes most cases of chronic bronchitis, the best way to prevent it is to not smoke. It's also important to try to avoid lung irritants such as secondhand smoke, air pollution, chemical fumes, and dusts.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

COPD

What is COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)?

COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is a group of lung diseases that make it hard to breathe and get worse over time.

Normally, the airways and air sacs in your lungs are elastic or stretchy. When you breathe in, the airways bring air to the air sacs. The air sacs fill up with air, like a small balloon. When you breathe out, the air sacs deflate, and the air goes out. If you have COPD, less air flows in and out of your airways because of one or more problems:

  • The airways and air sacs in your lungs become less elastic
  • The walls between many of the air sacs are destroyed
  • The walls of the airways become thick and inflamed
  • The airways make more mucus than usual and can become clogged
What are the types of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)?

COPD includes two main types:

  • Emphysema affects the air sacs in your lungs, as well as the walls between them. They become damaged and are less elastic.
  • Chronic bronchitis, in which the lining of your airways is constantly irritated and inflamed. This causes the lining to swell and make mucus.

Most people with COPD have both emphysema and chronic bronchitis, but how severe each type is can be different from person to person.

What causes COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)?

The cause of COPD is usually long-term exposure to irritants that damage your lungs and airways. In the United States, cigarette smoke is the main cause. Pipe, cigar, and other types of tobacco smoke can also cause COPD, especially if you inhale them.

Exposure to other inhaled irritants can contribute to COPD. These include secondhand smoke, air pollution, and chemical fumes or dusts from the environment or workplace.

Rarely, a genetic condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency can play a role in causing COPD.

Who is at risk for COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)?

The risk factors for COPD include

  • Smoking. This the main risk factor. Up to 75% of people who have COPD smoke or used to smoke.
  • Long-term exposure to other lung irritants, such as secondhand smoke, air pollution, and chemical fumes and dusts from the environment or workplace
  • Age. Most people who have COPD are at least 40 years old when their symptoms begin.
  • Genetics. This includes alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, which is a genetic condition. Also, smokers who get COPD are more likely to get it if they have a family history of COPD.
What are the symptoms of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)?

At first, you may have no symptoms or only mild symptoms. As the disease gets worse, your symptoms usually become more severe. They can include

  • Frequent coughing or a cough that produces a lot mucus
  • Wheezing
  • A whistling or squeaky sound when you breathe
  • Shortness of breath, especially with physical activity
  • Tightness in your chest

Some people with COPD get frequent respiratory infections such as colds and the flu. In severe cases, COPD can cause weight loss, weakness in your lower muscles, and swelling in your ankles, feet, or legs.

How is COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) diagnosed?

To make a diagnosis, your health care provider

  • Will ask about your medical history and family history
  • Will ask about your symptoms
  • May do lab tests, such as lung function tests, a chest x-ray or CT scan, and blood tests

Your doctor will diagnose COPD based on your signs and symptoms, your medical and family histories, and test results.

What are the treatments for COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)?

There is no cure for COPD. However, treatments can help with symptoms, slow the progress of the disease, and improve your ability to stay active. There are also treatments to prevent or treat complications of the disease. Treatments include

  • Lifestyle changes, such as
    • Quitting smoking if you are a smoker. This is the most important step you can take to treat COPD.
    • Avoiding secondhand smoke and places where you might breathe in other lung irritants
    • Ask your health care provider for an eating plan that will meet your nutritional needs. Also ask about how much physical activity you can do. Physical activity can strengthen the muscles that help you breathe and improve your overall wellness.
  • Medicines, such as
    • Bronchodilators, which relax the muscles around your airways. This helps open your airways and makes breathing easier. Most bronchodilators are taken through an inhaler. In more severe cases, the inhaler may also contain steroids to reduce inflammation.
    • Vaccines for the flu and pneumococcal pneumonia, since people with COPD are at higher risk for serious problems from these diseases
    • Antibiotics if you get a bacterial or viral lung infection
  • Oxygen therapy, if you have severe COPD and low levels of oxygen in your blood. Oxygen therapy can help you breathe better. You may need extra oxygen all the time or only at certain times.
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation, which is a program that helps improve the well-being of people who have chronic breathing problems. It may include
    • An exercise program
    • Disease management training
    • Nutritional counseling
    • Psychological counseling
  • Surgery, usually as a last resort for people who have severe symptoms that have not gotten better with medicines:
    • For COPD that is mainly related to emphysema, there are surgeries that
      • Remove damaged lung tissue
      • Remove large air spaces (bullae) that can form when air sacs are destroyed. The bullae can interfere with breathing.
    • For severe COPD, some people may need lung transplant

If you have COPD, it's important to know when and where to get help for your symptoms. You should get emergency care if you have severe symptoms, such as trouble catching your breath or talking. Call your health care provider if your symptoms are getting worse or if you have signs of an infection, such as a fever.

Can COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) be prevented?

Since smoking causes most cases of COPD, the best way to prevent it is to not smoke. It's also important to try to avoid lung irritants such as secondhand smoke, air pollution, chemical fumes, and dusts.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Cough

Coughing is a reflex that keeps your throat and airways clear. Although it can be annoying, coughing helps your body heal or protect itself. Coughs can be either acute or chronic. Acute coughs begin suddenly and usually last no more than 2 to 3 weeks. Acute coughs are the kind you most often get with a cold, flu, or acute bronchitis. Chronic coughs last longer than 2 to 3 weeks. Causes of chronic cough include

  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Asthma
  • Allergies
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
  • Smoking
  • Throat disorders, such as croup in young children
  • Some medicines

Water can help ease your cough - whether you drink it or add it to the air with a steamy shower or vaporizer. If you have a cold or the flu, antihistamines may work better than non-prescription cough medicines. Children under four should not have cough medicine. For children over four, use caution and read labels carefully.

Emphysema

What is emphysema?

Emphysema is a type of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). COPD is a group of lung diseases that make it hard to breathe and get worse over time. The other main type of COPD is chronic bronchitis. Most people with COPD have both emphysema and chronic bronchitis, but how severe each type is can be different from person to person.

Emphysema affects the air sacs in your lungs. Normally, these sacs are elastic or stretchy. When you breathe in, each air sac fills up with air, like a small balloon. When you breathe out, the air sacs deflate, and the air goes out.

In emphysema, the walls between many of the air sacs in the lungs are damaged. This causes the air sacs to lose their shape and become floppy. The damage also can destroy the walls of the air sacs, leading to fewer and larger air sacs instead of many tiny ones. This makes it harder for your lungs to move oxygen in and carbon dioxide out of your body.

What causes emphysema?

The cause of emphysema is usually long-term exposure to irritants that damage your lungs and the airways. In the United States, cigarette smoke is the main cause. Pipe, cigar, and other types of tobacco smoke can also cause emphysema, especially if you inhale them.

Exposure to other inhaled irritants can contribute to emphysema. These include secondhand smoke, air pollution, and chemical fumes or dusts from the environment or workplace.

Rarely, a genetic condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency can play a role in causing emphysema.

Who is at risk for emphysema?

The risk factors for emphysema include

  • Smoking. This the main risk factor. Up to 75% of people who have emphysema smoke or used to smoke.
  • Long-term exposure to other lung irritants, such as secondhand smoke, air pollution, and chemical fumes and dusts from the environment or workplace.
  • Age. Most people who have emphysema are at least 40 years old when their symptoms begin.
  • Genetics. This includes alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, which is a genetic condition. Also, smokers who get emphysema are more likely to get it if they have a family history of COPD.
What are the symptoms of emphysema?

At first, you may have no symptoms or only mild symptoms. As the disease gets worse, your symptoms usually become more severe. They can include

  • Frequent coughing or wheezing
  • A cough that produces a lot mucus
  • Shortness of breath, especially with physical activity
  • A whistling or squeaky sound when you breathe
  • Tightness in your chest

Some people with emphysema get frequent respiratory infections such as colds and the flu. In severe cases, emphysema can cause weight loss, weakness in your lower muscles, and swelling in your ankles, feet, or legs.

How is emphysema diagnosed?

To make a diagnosis, your health care provider

  • Will ask about your medical history and family history
  • Will ask about your symptoms
  • May do lab tests, such as lung function tests, a chest x-ray or CT scan, and blood tests
What are the treatments for emphysema?

There is no cure for emphysema. However, treatments can help with symptoms, slow the progress of the disease, and improve your ability to stay active. There are also treatments to prevent or treat complications of the disease. Treatments include

  • Lifestyle changes, such as
    • Quitting smoking if you are a smoker. This is the most important step you can take to treat emphysema.
    • Avoiding secondhand smoke and places where you might breathe in other lung irritants
    • Ask your health care provider for an eating plan that will meet your nutritional needs. Also ask about how much physical activity you can do. Physical activity can strengthen the muscles that help you breathe and improve your overall wellness.
  • Medicines, such as
    • Bronchodilators, which relax the muscles around your airways. This helps open your airways and makes breathing easier. Most bronchodilators are taken through an inhaler. In more severe cases, the inhaler may also contain steroids to reduce inflammation.
    • Vaccines for the flu and pneumococcal pneumonia, since people with emphysema are at higher risk for serious problems from these diseases
    • Antibiotics if you get a bacterial or viral lung infection
  • Oxygen therapy, if you have severe emphysema and low levels of oxygen in your blood. Oxygen therapy can help you breathe better. You may need extra oxygen all the time or only at certain times.
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation, which is a program that helps improve the well-being of people who have chronic breathing problems. It may include
    • An exercise program
    • Disease management training
    • Nutritional counseling
    • Psychological counseling
  • Surgery, usually as a last resort for people who have severe symptoms that have not gotten better with medicines. There are surgeries to
    • Remove damaged lung tissue
    • Remove large air spaces (bullae) that can form when air sacs are destroyed. The bullae can interfere with breathing.
    • Do a lung transplant. This is might be an option if you have very severe emphysema.

If you have emphysema, it's important to know when and where to get help for your symptoms. You should get emergency care if you have severe symptoms, such as trouble catching your breath or talking. Call your health care provider if your symptoms are getting worse or if you have signs of an infection, such as a fever.

Can emphysema be prevented?

Since smoking causes most cases of emphysema, the best way to prevent it is to not smoke. It's also important to try to avoid lung irritants such as secondhand smoke, air pollution, chemical fumes, and dusts.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute