220849 Health Library | Health and Wellness | Wellmont Health System
  • Chronic Bronchitis

    (Bronchitis, Chronic)

    Definition

    Chronic bronchitis is a long term disease of the lungs. It is a problem with the airway of the lungs. Injury or irritation causes these airways to swell and develop extra mucus. This makes it difficult to move air in and out of the lungs. It will make breathing difficult.
    Chronic bronchitis is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
    Chronic Bronchitis
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    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

    Causes

    Chronic bronchitis is caused damage to the airways. The damage is caused by:
    • Cigarette smoking
    • Inhaling toxins or other irritants
    • Genetic predisposition can make a person's lungs more susceptible to damage from smoke or pollutants (includes alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency)

    Risk Factors

    Cigarette smoking is the greatest risk factor for developing chronic bronchitis. The more you smoke and the longer you smoke, the greater your chance of developing chronic bronchitis. Frequent and long-term smoking also increases the chance of severe chronic bronchitis.
    The following factors may also increase your chance of chronic bronchitis:
    • Long-term exposure to chemicals, dust, and other substances that have been inhaled
    • Long-term cigar or marijuana smoking
    • Exposure to secondhand smoke
    • Family members with COPD
    • History of frequent childhood lung infections
    • Age: 40 years or older
    • Long term asthma

    Symptoms

    Symptoms include:
    • Cough
    • Increased mucus production
    • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, especially after mild activity or exercise
    • Recurring respiratory infections that cause symptoms to worsen
    • Wheezing when breathing
    • Fatigue

    Diagnosis

    To diagnose chronic bronchitis, symptoms of productive cough must have been present for three or more months in at least two consecutive years, and not have been caused by another condition. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Tests may include the following:
    • Breathing tests to check lung function
    • Arterial blood gas tests
    • Blood tests to determine complete blood count and oxygen saturation of the blood
    • Chest x-ray —a test that uses radiation to take a picture of structures inside the chest
    • CT scan of the chest—a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the chest

    Treatment

    There is no cure for chronic bronchitis. There are treatments that can reduce symptoms and improve lung function. The best way to reduce symptoms is to stop smoking.
    Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:

    Medication

    Medications may include bronchodilators or steroids. They may help manage chronic bronchitis by:
    • Opening the airways
    • Relaxing the breathing passages
    • Decreasing inflammation
    • Treating lung infections (antibiotics)
    Some medication may be taken as pills or liquids. Others are inhaled medication that is delivered directly to the lungs.
    Antibiotics are rarely prescribed to treat bronchitis. They may be needed to treat a lung infection that has developed because of the bronchitis.

    Vaccines

    The flu and pneumonia can make your symptoms worse. Get vaccinated against pneumonia and the flu . The flu vaccine may also reduce flare-ups.

    Oxygen

    Oxygen therapy may be helpful if the oxygen levels in your blood are too low. It can relieve trouble breathing and improve energy. You may only need it for specific activities or it may be given throughout the day.

    Exercise

    Special exercises can strengthen chest muscles. This can make it easier to breathe.
    Regular physical activity can reduce the workload on your lungs by building you endurance. Physical activity is also associated with improved quality of life. Follow your doctor's recommendations for activity levels and restrictions.

    Breathing and Coughing Techniques

    Special methods of breathing can help bring more air into the lungs. It can also help force trapped air out of the lungs. Effective coughing techniques can also help clear mucus from your lungs. Ask your doctor if these techniques can help you. Some examples include:
    • Pursed lip breathing
    • Controlled coughing technique

    Lifestyle Changes

    The following may help you manage your symptoms and avoid flare-ups:
    • Pace your activities.
    • Learn relaxation techniques and other methods to manage stress.
    • Seek emotional support from professionals, family, and friends. Anxiety can increase the rate of respiration, making breathing more strenuous.

    Prevention

    Take these steps to reduce your chance of developing chronic bronchitis:
    • If you smoke, quit.
    • Avoid exposure to second-hand smoke.
    • Avoid exposure to air pollution or irritants.
    • Wear protective gear if exposed to irritants or toxins at work.

    RESOURCES

    American Lung Association http://www.lungusa.org

    Smokefree.gov http://www.smokefree.gov/

    CANADIAN RESOURCES

    Canadian Lung Association http://www.lung.ca/

    Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/index%5Fe.html/

    References

    Chronic bronchitis. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/articles/280.html . Accessed October 1, 2012.

    COPD. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated September 25, 2012. Accessed October 1, 2012.

    What is COPD? National Heart Lung Blood Institute (NHLBI) website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/copd/ . Accessed October 1, 2012.

    Helpful hints for respiratory patients. American Lung Association website. Available at: http://www.lungusa.org/site/apps/s/content.asp?c=dvLUK9O0E&b=34706&ct=3004005 . Accessed October 1, 2012.

    Breathing techniques. Canadian Lung Association website. Available at: http://www.lung.ca/diseases-maladies/copd-mpoc/breathing-respiration/index%5Fe.php . Accessed October 1, 2012.

    Halbert RJ, Natoli JL, Gano A, et al. Global burden of COPD: systematic review and meta- analysis. Eur Respir J 2006;28:523.

    Lopez AD, Shibuya K, Rao C, et al. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: current burden and future projections. Eur Respir J 2006;27:397.

    What you can do about a lung disease called COPD. Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease website. Available at: http://www.goldcopd.org/uploads/users/files/GOLD%5FPatient%5FRevJan10.pdf . Accessed October 1, 2012.

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